Recently 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.
The first college football game ever televised, Waynesburg vs. Fordham in 1939.
On a steamy August Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1938, New York right-hander Monte Pearson, shown below right, pitched the first no-hitter in Yankee Stadium history. The Yanks beat the Cleveland Indians, 13-0, that afternoon to complete a doubleheader sweep.
Pearson, who was 16-7 that year and won exactly 100 games lifetime, faced the minimum 27 batters, striking out seven. Tommy Henrich and Joe Gordon each homered twice.
In the opener that day, Joe DiMaggio’s third straight triple of the game plated two runs in the bottom of the ninth to cap a three-run rally and give the Yankees an 8-7 victory. A crowd of 40.959 was on hand as the Yankees increased their American League lead to 12 games en route to their third straight championship.
One year later come September, Fordham University defeated Waynesburg College of Pennsylvania, 34-7, at Randalls Island in New York. But that wasn’t the story. NBC filmed the first college football game ever televised, as Bill Stern brought the play by play to viewers.
Waynesburg’s Bobby Brooks made history with a 63-yard touchdown run, the first televised TD. Reportedly, there was no victory dance in the end zone.
The W2XBS broadcast signal had about a 50-mile radius, and there were about a thousand TV sets in the New York metropolitan area at the time. The signal didn’t even reach Waynesburg, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. So who saw the game? Who knows?
Columbia Shocks Army
In October of 1947, Army was a huge favorite as the Cadets brought a 32-game winning streak into New York to face Columbia’s Lions. Army had not lost since 1943; Columbia was coming off losses to Yale and Penn.
Army led, 20-7, at the half, but the Columbia combination of quarterback Gene Rossides and received Bill Swiacki brought the Lions back for a stunning 21-20 victory.
And in September of 1961, Roger Maris of the Yankees, pictured left, hit a long home run into the upper deck at the old Yankee Stadium against Baltimore’s Jack Fisher. The round-tripper was Roger’s 60th of the season, equaling the mark Babe Ruth set in 1927. Maris hit number 61 on the final day of the season, setting a record that many feel still stands.
These events, interesting in of themselves, have something else in common. My father was right there for each and every one. He was just 13-years-old at the Pearson no-hitter, a game he attended with other family members. The decision was made to leave once the Indians got their first hit. That never happened.
My Dad went to the Waynesburg-Fordham game with his cousin, who was at that time the manager of a powerful Fordham team. By the time Maris tied the Babe in 1961, my Dad was a father of four, two boys and two girls, including me, the oldest. Of course, my Mom had something to do that.
My Dad took me to my first Yankee game nearly 60 years ago. He also brought me to my first Giants game, also at Yankee Stadium, and to my first Knicks and Rangers games at the old Madison Square Garden.
He’s always been there for me, whether it be cash, advice or a good meal. There’s still nothing I’d rather do than talk sports with my old man. I treasure the times I spend with him always.
Happy Birthday. Love you, Dad.
(Note: My father turns 92 today. World War II veteran, engineer, lifelong Yankee fan, married for 67 years, father of our, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of 10. He’s the smartest man I’ve ever known.)
Big deal you say? Well….yes. As a matter of fact, 12/11/16 marked the first and only time all four of those NY teams won on the same day. And that goes back to 1960, the year the Jets took off….as the New York Titans.
Think about that for a minute. 57 seasons of competition. Five Super Bowl championships, two NBA titles and a Stanley Cup. And yet, not once did the Giants, Jets, Knicks and Rangers ever win on the same day. Until December 11.
Oh sure, there were hundreds of instances when the four didn’t play on the same day. The Jets on a Sunday, the Giants on a Monday for instance. Strikes by the NFL, NBA and NHL also came into play several times.
In the entire decade of the 70s (from 1971-80), the Giants and the Jets managed to win on the same day just three times. That’s some lousy football.
On four separate occasions – in 2014, 1988, 1968 and 1962 – the Giants, Jets and Rangers all won on the same day. But the Knicks lost. In 2010 both football teams won along with the Knicks, but the Rangers lost.
Four others times, in 1986, 1971, 1968 and 1962, the football teams both won but the Knicks lost to the Lakers. In each case, the Rangers were idle.
Finally, on Dec. 11 it all clicked. That day the Jets rallied to beat the 49ers 23-17 in overtime on a 19-yard touchdown run by Bilal Powell. On Sunday night, the Giants defeated the Cowboys 10-7 as Odell Beckham caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning for the game winner. The Rangers, playing at Madison Square Garden that night, routed the Devils 5-0. behind the shutout goaltending of Antti Raanta. And later that night, on the West Coast, the Knicks beat the Lakers 122-118 as Kristaps Porzingis scored 26 points and Derrick Rose added 25.
When the Cavaliers shocked the Warriors to win the NBA Championship last month, Cleveland ended a string of 52 years without a championship, dating back to the Browns winning the NFL title against the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in 1964.
So now Minnesota – make that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul – has the longest championship drought in North America professional sports.
Minnesota’s dry spell extends nearly 25 years, all the way back to October 27, 1991. That night the Twins behind Jack Morris beat the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in 10 innings to win Game 7 of the World Series. Kirby Puckett and his teammates had plenty to celebrate.
But since then, not a single Minnesota team – Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves or Wild – has even made it to a championship series.
Washington, D.C. is next on the list. The last championship for teams that represent our nation’s capital came in early 1992, when the Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl.
Ironically, the original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961. Washington hasn’t had a team in the World Series since 1933.
Toronto won its last championship in 1993 when the Blue Jays won the World Series on a dramatic, ninth inning home run by Joe Carter.
Houston last won a title in 1995 when the Rockets took the NBA crown. And Atlanta beat the Cleveland Indians later that year to win the World Series.
Like Cleveland, all the cities mentioned about have teams in at least three of the four major pro sports, baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
For cities that don’t have either basketball or hockey franchises, San Diego and Cincinnati have suffered the most. The Chargers last won a championship in 1963, when they humbled the Boston Patriots 51-10 for the AFL crown. The Cincinnati Reds last won the World Series in 1990, sweeping the Oakland A’s.
Nobody wants to be on this list, but Minnesota now tops the charts.
When Texas A&M rallied from 12 points down with less than a minute left to play and went on to defeat Maryland in double overtime in the NCAA West Regionals, it marked the biggest comeback in the last minute of a game in college basketball history. And it proved that “never say die” and “play to the last whistle” are more than just clichés.
The Aggies trailed Northern Iowa by a dozen points with 34 seconds remaining before they closed out regulation with a stunning 14-2 run that sent the game into overtime. A&M then won the game 92-88 in the second OT to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007.
“We played the game the right way, even at the end,” said Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, who admitted afterward he would need time to wrap his head around what had transpired. “We didn’t have guys just coming down jacking up 3s. We tried to drive the ball.”
The previous college basketball comeback record was set in 2005, when UNLV rallied from 11 points down with 59 seconds left to beat San Diego State in overtime.
Some might argue the Aggies spirited surge ranks as the greatest comeback in the history of sports. It may well be. Here are the 10 biggest single-game comebacks of all time.
1. Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38, OT, 1993 NFL playoffs: In the midst of their four-year Super Bowl run, the Bills engineered a comeback for the ages. Already trailing 28-3 at halftime behind four touchdown passes by future Hall of Famer Warren Moon, Buffalo fell even further behind early in the third quarter when Houston safety Bubba McDowell intercepted a pass from quarterback Frank Reich, who was filling in for the injured Jim Kelly, and returned it 58 yards for another Oiler touchdown, putting the score at 35-3. At this point, many Bills fans headed home out of the chilly western New York weather, convinced the game was lost.
Amazingly the Bills rallied with five straight touchdowns, four on Reich passes, the last a 17-yard toss to Andre Reed to put Buffalo up 38-35 with less than three minutes left in regulation. In the waning seconds of the game, Houston’s Al Del Greco made a 26-yard field goal kick to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Not to be denied, Steve Christie kicked a 32-yard field goal, winning the game for Buffalo 41-38 and completing the largest comeback victory (32 points) in NFL history. The Bills made it to the Super Bowl that year but lost to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the third of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances for the Bills; they lost all four games.
2. Cleveland Indians 15, Seattle Mariners 14, 11 innings, 2001: The Indians tied the greatest single-game comeback in MLB history when they reversed a 12-0 deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners 15-14 in extra innings. The Indians scored three runs in the seventh, four in the eighth, and five in the ninth to force extra innings before Jolbert Cabrera drove home Kenny Lofton with the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.
Cleveland scored five runs in the ninth after two outs to tie the game at 14-14, capped by a two-strike bases-loaded triple by Omar Vizquel. To emphasize what an insane comeback this was, they had been down 14-2 at the seventh inning stretch, and somehow managed to win.
What made the comeback even more impressive was that the Mariners set an American League record and tied the MLB record with 116 victories in 2001.
3. Boston Celtics 97, Los Angeles Lakers 91, 2008 NBA Finals: In one of the largest turnarounds in the history of the NBA Finals, the Celtics came back from 24 points down, the biggest Finals turnaround since 1971, to win Game 4, 97-91. The victory gave the Celtics a 3-1 series lead and was the biggest reason Boston went on to win its first and only title since 1986.
4. Kentucky 99, LSU 95, 1994: If any lead is safe, you’d think being up 31 points with 15 minutes to play would suffice. LSU led Kentucky 68-37 in the second half of their February contest, but then the Wildcats rallied—led by Walter McCarty and Travis Ford—with 62 points to end the game with a 99-95 win. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino remarked, “I know I’ve never, ever witnessed anything like it.”
5. Los Angeles Kings 6, Edmonton Oilers 5, OT, NHL 1982 playoffs: The Miracle on Manchester is the nickname given to an NHL playoff game between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. The game, the third in a best-of-five postseason series, was played at Los Angeles Forum, the Kings home at the time, which was situated on Manchester Boulevard. The Kings completed the largest comeback in NHL playoff history, going from being down 5-0 to win the game 6-5 in overtime. Combined with upset wins in Games 1 and 5, the Kings eliminated the heavily favored Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier-led Oilers in a 3-2 series victory to reach the second round.
6. Maryland 42, Miami 40, 1984: Trailing 31-0 at halftime, the Terrapins came all the way back to stun the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. Frank Reich, the same quarterback who would lead Buffalo to an improbable comeback win against Houston in the NFL playoffs, threw six touchdown passes in the second half to spark the amazing rally. “In the first half, everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong,” one of Reich’s teammates said. “In the second half, everything that could possibly go right, went right.”
7. Indiana Pacers, 107, New York Knicks 105, NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals: Reggie Miller scored eight points in nine seconds to draw the ire of Spike Lee and New York fans everywhere. We’ve all seen the video. Reggie hits a three, steals the ball and then quickly hits another three to tie the game with 13 seconds left. Miller, who finished with 31 points, made two free throws seconds later to life the Pacers to the Game 1 win. In the postgame frenzy, the celebratory Pacers headed to the locker room. Reggie, in his euphoria, screamed “They choked, they choked.”
8. Detroit Tigers 14, Milwaukee Brewers 13, 1901: It happened in 1901, and hasn’t happened in 115 years since – the greatest ninth inning comeback in baseball history. On April 24, 1901, in their first American League game, the Detroit Tigers scored 10 runs in the ninth inning to beat Milwaukee, 14-13.
9. Rockets 81, Spurs 80, 2004: Tracy McGrady scored an unfathomable 13 points in 33 seconds to bring Houston back from an eight-point deficit in the final minute against the Spurs. McGrady capped it off with a buzzer-beating three for the win.
10. Philadelphia A’s 17, Cleveland Indians 15, 1925: The Indians led, 14-2 and 15-3, and had a 15-4 advantage in the middle of the eighth. Then came the deluge. Thirteen Philadelphia runs turned a huge deficit into a 17-15 win. Future Hall of Famer Al Simmons led the Athletics’ attack with three hits, including a home run, and three RBIs.
1. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: January has been a rough month for musical artists, highlighted by the passing of David Bowie,who graced the cover of TIME magazine. Other notables have included Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Dale Griffin of Mott the Hoople and the unforgettable Natalie Cole. The talent may be gone, but the music will always be with us.
2. Bonus cantos: Fans at Madison Square Garden are certainly getting their money’s worth this week, with feature events the last three days all going into overtime. The Knicks held off the 76ers in a double overtime win Monday afternoon, then stopped the Jazz in overtime last night. The Rangers edged the Canucks in overtime on Tuesday.
3. There’s a first time for everything: When the Panthers host the Cardinals this weekend in the NFC Championship game, it will mark the first time in NFL history that Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks meet head-to-head in the playoffs. Carolina’s Cam Newton won the Heisman at Auburn in 2010, and Arizona’s Carson Palmer took college football’s highest honor at USC in 2002. That’s similar to what happened in last year’s World Series, when the Royals and the Mets staged the first Fall Classic encounter between two baseball expansion teams.
4. A Cespedes for the rest of us: Can’t fathom why the Mets don’t bite the bullet and at least try and retain Yoenis Cespedes. Without Cespedes, the Mets would not have made the playoffs last year. Be a shame to waste all that young pitching for lack of a big bopper in the middle of the lineup. And it will be tough for Met fans to swallow if Cespedes goes to the Nationals as rumored.
5. The people’s choice: Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis, tabbed a precocious neophyte by New York’s legendary guard and broadcaster Walt Frazier, is a popular guy. Already sales of KP’s #6 jersey rank fourth in the NBA, behind only Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and ahead of Kevin Durant. Porzingis is now a favorite of Knick fans, who booed his selection on NBA draft night and now cheer his every move.
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.