Five days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I saw my first NFL game. On a cool Sunday afternoon in 1963, the Giants rolled over the visiting 49ers 48-14 at Yankee Stadium.
Frank Gifford caught a pair of touchdown passes that day, a 10-yarder from Y.A. Tittle and later a 30-yarder from New York’s back-up quarterback Glynn Griffing. Later that year, Gifford scored the Giants’ only touchdown in a 14-10 loss to the Bears in the NFL championship game at Wrigley Field.
A year later, Gifford retired. He lived the life of “the ultimate Giant.” And of course Gifford would go on to make a huge imprint on pro football, broadcasting Monday Night Football games on ABC for nearly 30 years.
Gifford, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 84, still ranks first all-time in Giants touchdowns with 78, second in receiving yards and eighth in rushing yardage.
“Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant,” said Giants co-owner John Mara. “He was the face of our franchise for so many years. More importantly, he was a treasured member of our family. My father loved him like a son and was proud to act as his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a favor Frank returned years later by presenting my father in Canton. For my siblings and me, Frank was like a revered older brother whom we looked up to and admired. We loved him and will miss him terribly.”
For a kid growing up in Westchester County, a kid who went to Iona Prep, the same high school as John Mara, Frank Gifford was the epitome of cool. Giants cool. Lawrence Taylor was the greatest Giant, but for half of century Gifford was the face of the franchise. To be called a “legend: by Joe Namath is quite a tribute.
I’ll always cherish that Frank Gifford autograph and the words of encouragement I received at a Communion breakfast in White Plains when I was 12 years old. #16, gone but not forgotten.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 12, 1964, the Yankees were languishing in third place, trailing the Orioles by 3 1/2 games and the White Sox by 2 1/2. The Yankees were in the last days of a great dynasty, having won 13 American League pennants and nine World Series in the previous 15 years.
That day a tall, slender right-hand pitcher named Mel Stottlemyre was called up to make his major league debut. Aided by a tape measure home run by Mickey Mantle, Stott pitched a complete-game, seven-hitter and beat the ChiSox, 7-3, for his first big league win. He even singled in his first at bat. .
That was 51 years ago, but the Yankees made arguably their most important pitching call-up since then when they brought up highly touted Luis Serevino, pictured below, in early August. Although Severino didn’t fare quite as well as Stottlemyre in his debut, he did pitch well, striking out seven batters, walking none, and allowing only two hits and one unearned run in a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.
The Yankees have had plenty of starting pitching prospects since then. But outside of a few notable exceptions, like Ron Guidry and Andy Pettitte, few have lived up to expectations. Home-grown talent like Jim Beattie, Scott Kamieniecki, Sam Militello and later Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, have struggled in the Bronx. And then there was the sad tale of Brien Taylor, the top overall pick in the 1991 draft, who injured his shoulder in a bar fight and never pitched in the majors.
Stott down the stretch
Back to 1964. Stottlemyre went 9-3 down the stretch that year and was a major force as the Yankees advanced to the World Series against the Cardinals. He beat the Orioles, 3-1, just three days after his debut.And on August 22, in his third start, he righted the ship and stopped a six-game losing streak with an 8-0 shutout win over the Red Sox. The Yankees won 30 of their last 41 games to take the flag.
Stottlemyre won six more games in 1964, highlighted by a 7-0 shutout of the Washington Senators on September 26 in which he allowed just two hits. But the kicker was at the plate, where Stott went 5-for-5 and drove in a pair of runs.
In the World Series that October, the Yankees became heavily dependent on Stottlemyre after Whitey Ford was injured in the opener. Mel beat Bob Gibson in Game Two, a complete game 8-3 victory. Despite pitching seven strong innings in Game Five, he came away with a no decision. Finally, pitching on just two days rest, he lost to Gibson and the Cardinals 7-5 in Game Seven.
Stottlemyre would pitch 10 more years in the Bronx and never saw the playoffs after 1964. Severino’s fate is still TBD.
Related blog: Mel Stottlemyre’s inside-the-park grand slam.
When Major League Baseball announced its Franchise Four results recently, if left a ton of talent on the other side of Mount Rushmore. Although it’s difficult to argue with many of the selections, leaving Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens off the 8-man lists of the teams they played for is unfathomable. If you want to argue steroids, then tell me how Barry Bonds made the Franchise Four for the Giants.
MLB also pulled together a Greatest Pioneer list, consisting of Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young. Perhaps that’s a CYA list, since these immortals weren’t voted in by fans of their respective teams. The Negro League quartet of Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil and Satchel Paige sounds about right. Only old Satch ever made it to the majors.
There are also issues with the Greatest Living Player foursome. Henry Aaron and Willie Mays are no-brainers, and Sandy Koufax gets a pass, despite a brief but brilliant career. But choosing Johnny Bench over Yogi Berra is wrong. Berra has a higher lifetime batting average (.285 to .267), more rings (10 to 2), more RBIs and nearly as many home runs as Bench. Yogi also managed two teams, the Yankees and the Mets, to the seventh game of the World Series. Berra is an icon, Bench is merely a catcher. Since the results were announced during the All-Star Game festivities in Cincinnati, perhaps MLB wanted to put Bench on the list. Just sayin’.
There, now that we have that out of the way, here’s my list by position of top ballplayers on the other side of Mount Rushmore, legends who struck out on the Franchise Four’ Starters are listed first, followed by reserves ranked in order of selection
C – Yogi Berra, Yankees
Bill Dickey, Yankees
Carlton Fisk, Red Sox
Roy Campanella, Dodgers
1B – Albert Pujols, Cardinals
George Sisler, Browns
Bill Terry, Giants
Eddie Murray, Orioles
2B – Eddie Collins, A’s/White Sox
Charlie Gehringer, Tigers
Nap Lajoie, Naps (now Indians)
Tony Lazzeri, Yankees
SS – Derek Jeter, Yankees
Ozzie Smith, Cardinals
Dave Concepcion, Reds
Luis Aparicio, White Sox
3B – Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Pie Traynor, Pirates
Eddie Matthews, Braves
Wade Boggs, Red Sox/Yankees
OF – Joe Jackson, Indians/White Sox
OF – Al Simmons, A’s
OF – Mel Ott, Giants
Harry Heilmann, Tigers
Jim Rice, Red Sox
Zack Wheat, Dodgers
Larry Doby, Indians
Chuck Klein, Phillies
Paul Waner, Pirates
Ralph Kiner, Pirates
Sam Crawford, Tigers
Goose Goslin, Senators
SP – Cy Young, Red Sox
SP – Walter Johnson, Senators
SP – Christy Mathewson, Giants
SP – Carl Hubbell, Giants
SP – Roger Clemens, Red Sox
Grover Alexander, Phillies/Cub/Cardinals
Juan Marichal, Giants
Whitey Ford, Yankees
Dizzy Dean, Cardinals
Ferguson Jenkins, Cubs
John Smoltz, Braves
Tommy Glavine, Braves
Ted Lyons, White Sox
Catfish Hunter, A’s/Yankees
Gaylord Perry, Giants/Indians
Red Ruffing, Red Sox/Yankees
John Clarkson, Braves (formerly Beaneaters)
Eddie Plank, A’s
Dazzy Vance, Dodgers
Addie Joss, Naps (formerly Indians)
RP – Mariano Rivera, Yankees
Goose Gossage, Yankees/White Sox
Bruce Sutter, Cardinals/Cubs
Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants/A’s
And the last shall be the first. Although not much was made of it, the last NBA champion, the Warriors, also won the league’s first title. So the Warriors span the NBA championship bridge from the first in Philadelphia to the last in Golden State.
The year was 1947. Less than two years after the end of World War II, Harry Truman was President, The Best Years of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier,and ENIAC, the world’s first electronic digital computer, was turned back on after being shut down for a nine-month refurbishment.
And the Philadelphia Warriors won the championship in the inaugural 1946-47 Basketball Association of America (BAA) season. Following the 1948–49 season (the BAA’s third season of play), the BAA and the National Basketball League merged to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Warriors championship is considered the first NBA title.
Eddie Gottlieb coached the Philadelphia five that year and forward Joe Fulks won the NBA’s first scoring crown, averaging 23.2 points per game. Fulks, who joined the Marines in 1943 and served in the the South Pacific, scored 37 points in Game One of the Finals, including 21 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Warriors to an 84-71 win over the Stags. Jumpin’ Joe is #18 in the team picture above.
Philly won the next two games, and wrapped up the series in five when forward Howie Dallmar snapped a tie by nailing a jump shot with less than a minute remaining to give the Warriors the lead for good in an 83-80 victory. Fulks led all scorers with 34 points in the clincher.
Led by Paul Arizin, Neil Johnston and Tom Gola, the Philadelphia Warriors also captured the 1956 NBA championship, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in five games. Following the 1961-62 season, Wilt Chamberlain and the Warriors moved to San Francisco.
Later renamed Golden State, the Warriors swept the Washington Bullets in the 1974-75 NBA Finals. Hall of Famer Rick Barry averaged 30.6 points per game for Golden State that season.
In addition to their four championships, the Warriors lost three NBA Finals, to the Baltimore Bullets in 1948 while representing Philadelphia, and in 1964 to the Boston Celtics and 1967 to the Philadelphia 76ers, both while playing in San Francisco. Al Attles, a lifelong Warriors guard, played in both Finals and later coached Golden State to the 1975 NBA championship.
If you liked this blog, you might like: The 1947 Holy Cross Crusaders were another great basketball team. Read the SportsLifer – Holy Cross was Once King of Hoops.
Stephen Matteau, stick raised, celebrates the greatest OT goal in New York Rangers history.
Derek Stepan’s overtime goal the other night propelled the New York Rangers past the Washington Capitals into the Eastern Conference finals. The Game 7 goal was one of the biggest OT tallies in Ranger history. Here are 10 to remember:
1. Matteau, Matteau, Matteau: Stephen Matteau’s wraparound goal early in the second overtime in Game 7 beat Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur and sent the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, where they would end a fabled 54-year championship drought. The Howie Rose call “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” lives on in Rangers lore. Matteau also scored a double overtime goal in Game 3.
2. Triple Threat: Bryon Hextall scored an overtime game-winner at the 2:07 mark in Game 6 as the Rangers beat the Maple Leafs, 3-2, to win the 1940 Stanley Cup. Alf Pike in Game 1 and Muzz Patrick in double overtime of Game 5 also scored OT winners as the Blueshirts captured their third Stanley Cup.
3. Cup Winner: Bill Cook became the first player to score a Cup-winning goal in overtime as the Rangers beat Toronto, 1-0, in the 1933 finals. The Rangers would vacate Madison Square Garden for the circus after a first game victory, and took the best-of-five series in four games. Cook was the team’s first captain and was later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
4. Stepan, Stepan, Stepan: Derek Stepan buried a rebound midway through the first overtime and the Rangers knocked out Washington in a tense, seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal in 2015. Each game was decided by a single goal.
5. The Stemmer: Pete Stemkowski scored in triple overtime to end the fifth longest game in Rangers history and set up a Game 7 showdown with the Blackhawks in the 1971 semifinals. Despite Stemkowski’s heroics, which also featured an OT winner in Game 1, Chicago won the series in seven games.
6. Gravy Train: Adam Graves scored at 14:08 of the first overtime to lead the Rangers past the Devils and into the 1997 Eastern Conference finals. The 2-1 victory enabled the Blueshirts to win the series in five games despite losing the opener.
7. Raleigh Rally: Center Don “Bones” Raleigh scored overtime goals in Games 4 and 5 to beat the Red Wings in the 1950 Stanley Cup finals. However Detroit won Games 6 and 7, the last in double overtime after Raleigh’s shot hit the crossbar, to deny the Rangers.
8. Hot Rod: All-time Rangers leading goal scorer Rod Gilbert (406 goals), pictured at left, scored on a slap shot at 4:20 of the first overtime as the Rangers beat the Flyers, 2-1, in Game 4 of the 1974 semifinals. Philadelphia won the series in seven games, then beat Boston for its first Stanley Cup.
9. Gaborik’s Goal: Marian Gaborik’s tally at 14:41 of the third overtime gave the Rangers a 2-1 win over the Capitals in Game 3 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the third longest game in New York franchise history.
10. Hagelin’s Heroics: Carl Hagelin’s goal in the first overtime of the 2015 first round against Pittsburgh gave the Rangers the series in five games. It marked the team’s series-clinching OT goal since 1997, and the first at Madison Square Garden since Stephan Matteau’s gamer 21 years ago.
Workin’ overtime: Esa Tikkanen scored a pair of OT winners in a first round five-game series win in 1997…Bob Nevin delivered the clincher in Game 6 of a 1971 first-round series victory over Toronto…Fred Cook scored at 19:32 of the third overtime in the second longest game in Rangers history in the 1932 semifinals against Montreal.
Football broke out at a baseball game on July 17, 1990, when the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees did battle at Yankee Stadium. That night, two-sports stars Bo JacksonBo Jackson and Deion SandersDeion Sanders, playing center field for their respective ballclubs, put on a display of power and speed that wowed the 26,777 in attendance.
In the first inning, Jackson hit a two-run homer to dead center, just out of reach of a leaping Sanders. In his second at-bat, Bo said go as he crushed a long home run which landed three-quarters of the way up in the right center field bleachers, more than 450 feet from the plate.
Before Jackson came to the plate for the third time in the fifth inning, New York manager Stump Merrill visited the mound and asked Yankee starter Andy Hawkins how he intended to pitch Jackson. “Outside,” Hawkins replied. “It better be way outside,” said Merrill. Hawkins pitched outside and Jackson went with the pitch, hammering a more pedestrian two-run blast over the right field fence. In his first three at-bats, Bo had three HRs and seven RBIs. See video.
With the Yankees trailing 8-4 in the bottom of the sixth and a man on first, Sanders hit a line drive in the right center field gap which eluded a diving Jackson and rolled all the way to the wall. Sanders took a wide turn around third, crashed into catcher Mike Macfarlane, and then scrambled to touch home plate before Macfarlane could retrieve the ball for an inside-the-park home run. See video.
Jackson injured his left shoulder on the play and had to leave the game, killing any chance of a record-tying four home runs in a single game. Deion’s HR was hit against Mel Stottlemyre, Jr., son of the former standout Yankee right-hander. Oh, by the way, the Royals won the game, 10-7. See box score.
Ironically Jackson was drafted in the second round of the 1982 draft by the Yankees. But the shortstop from Bessemer, Alabama, decided to play football at Auburn University, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1995 and was selected the first pick overall in the 1986 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the running back never played for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse gave Bo at ultimatum – play football or baseball but not both. Jackson decided on baseball, and a year later resumed his NFL career with the Los Angeles Raiders, before a serious hip injury suffered in the playoffs ended his four-year career. Jackson played for the Royals, Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring following the 1994 season. He is still the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports.
Sanders, a cornerback at Florida State, began both his baseball career with the Yankees and his football career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1989. He is the only player to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week (he achieved both in his rookie season), and the only athlete to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. Deion batted .533 in the 1992 World Series, and won a Super Bowl in 1995 while playing for the 49ers.
Sanders played for the Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins in the NFL, and after sitting out several seasons, made a comeback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005. In baseball, he played for the Yankees, Atlanta Braves,Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants.
Yankee Gridiron Connections: George Halas played six games in the outfield for the Yankees in 1919 before Babe Ruth came aboard the following season. For nearly 50 years, Halas was a player, coach and owner of the Chicago Bears and won six NFL championships…John Elway, a third baseman, played two years in the minors with the Yankees, but went on to lasting glory as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Elway won Super Bowls in both 1998 and 1998, his final two seasons in football.
With the NFL draft on tap next week, what better time to review the top 10 drafts in NFL history.
Players are ultimately judged by election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that’s the main criteria for this exercise. It’s difficult to rate and rank recent drafts, since many of those players – at least the good ones – are still active and years from Hall of Fame eligibility. Here’s the SL top 10:
1. 1957 – Green Bay selected Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung of Notre Dame with the first overall pick. Len Dawson (5th), Jimmy Brown (6th), right, and Jim Parker (8th) were also first rounders and Hall of Famers. In all, eight eventual Hall of Famers were picked, including Tommy McDonald in the third round, Sonny Jurgensen in the fourth, Henry Jordan in the fifth and Gene Hickerson in the seventh. Cleveland had three Hall of Fame picks in Brown, generally considered the best running back in history, Jordan, a defensive tackle, and Hickerson, who played offensive guard. Jordan played two years with the Browns before being traded to the Packers. Jon Arnett, John Brodie and Ron Kramer, standouts in their own right, were the second, third and fourth overall selections.
2. 1967 – This class also had eight Hall of Famers, four of them — Bob Griese, Floyd Little, Alan Page and Gene Upshaw – going in the first round. Ken Houston, Willie Lanier, Lem Barney and Rayfield Wright were the other HOFers in this draft class. Bubba Smith was the first overall pick, and other notables included Gene Washington, John Gilliam and Rick Volk. The classes of 1957 and 1967 have more Hall of Fame inductees than any others in NFL history.
3. 1983 – The greatest quarterback class ever. Hall of Famers John Elway, #1 overall, Jim Kelly (14th) and Dan Marino (27th) were all drafted in the first round, along with Todd Blackledge (7th), Tony Eason (15th) and Ken O’Brien (27th). HOFers Eric Dickerson (2nd), Bruce Matthews (9th) and Darnell Green,(28th) were also drafted in the first round. In total, a record six Hall of Famers were picked in round one. Richard Dent, another Hall of Famer, went in the eighth round.
4. 1974 – Pittsburgh built a dynasty with this draft, as wide receiver Lynn Swann (1st round), left, linebacker Jack Lambert (2nd), wide receiver John Stallworth (4th) and center Mike Webster (5th) were all eventually enshrined in Canton. Dave Casper of Oakland was drafted in the second round.
5. 1968: There weren’t a ton of iconic stats in this class, but there were six Hall of Famers – Elvin Bethea, Art Shell, Ron Yary, Charlie Sanders, Curley Culp and Larry Csonka. Ron Yary was the first overall pick, and Ken Stabler, Claude Humphrey and Harold Jackson were also 1968 class members.
6. 1981 – The Giants picked linebacker Lawrence Taylor second overall after the Saints selected running back George Rogers. Taylor and San Francisco first round pick safety Ronnie Lott were Hall of Famers, along with defenders Mike Singletary, Howie Long and Rickey Jackson, all picked in round two, and offensive guard Russ Grimm, a third-round selection. Perhaps the greatest defensive draft class ever.
7. 1989 – This top-heavy draft saw four Hall of Fame players selected in the first five picks – Troy Aikman (1st), Barry Sanders (3rd), Derrick Thomas (4th) and Deion Sanders (5th). Lem Barney and Willie Lanier, both second-round selections, are now enshrined in Canton as well.
8. 1964 – Bob Brown, Charley Taylor, Carl Eller and Paul Warfield were drafted in round one, Mel Renfro and Paul Krause in round two.
1952 – Les Richter, Ollie Matson, Huge McElheney and Frank Gifford were first-round selections and Gino Marchetti, right, was the first pick in round two. Marchetti and Matson played together at the University of San Francisco in 1951 before the Dons dropped football. A third member of that team, offensive tackle Bob St. Clair who passed away this week, was drafted in 1953. No other college football team ever had three future Pro Football Hall of Famers on the roster at the same time.
10. 1961 – Mike Ditka, Jimmy Johnson, Herb Adderley and Bob Lilly all went in the first round. Scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton was top pick in round three.
Recent vintage drafts
1992 – Four Hall of Famers were drafted — Willie Roaf and Jerome Bettis in round one, Michael Strahan in round two and Will Shields in round three.
1995 – Tampa Bay had two HOF picks in the first round, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Running back Curtis Martin went to New England in round three.
1998 – Peyton Manning was the first overall pick by Indianapolis. Charles Woodson went number four overall. Ryan Leaf, number two overall, was a huge bust.
2004 – Eli Manning went first overall to San Diego, then was shipped to the Giants for Philip Rivers. A third quarterback, Ben Rothelsberger, went 11th overall to Pittsburgh.
2007 – Some solid first round picks, including Calvin Johnson (2nd overall), Joe Thomas (3rd), Adrian Peterson (7th) and Marshawn Lynch (12th). All have worked out good. The first overall pick JaMarcus Russell by Oakland — not so good.
2011 – Cam Newton (1st), AJ Green (4th), Julio Jones (6th) and JJ Watt (11th) were starry first-round picks in this class.
The first draft
The first NFL draft was held in 1936. Hall of Fame tackle Joe Stydahar was picked by the Bears in the first round, #6 overall. Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans (2nd round), Wayne Millner Boston Redskins (8th) and Dan Fortmann (9th) were the other future Hall of Famers from this inaugural class.
The first overall pick that year was Jay Berwanger, the University of Chicago halfback and winner of the first Heisman Trophy. Berwanger was picked by the Eagles, who traded his rights to the Bears. However owner and coach George Halas could not convince Berwanger to sign with Chicago. He reputedly wanted $1,000 per game.
Berwanger later expressed regret that he did not accept Halas’ offer. After graduating, Berwanger worked briefly as a sportswriter (reputedly he wrote one of the first blogs) and later became a manufacturer of plastic car parts. He was very modest about the Heisman, and used the trophy as a doorstop in his library.