The Babe, Huff, Joe Willie, Clyde and more — 12 New York sports icons in strange threads

The winningest goalie in hockey history and a future Hall of Famer retired recently after a brief seven-game stint with the St. Louis Blues. Wrong church, wrong pew. And wrong uniform. Brodeur will always be remembered as a Devil – he registered 688 wins during a 21-year run in New Jersey which started in 1991.

Here are a dozen iconic New York sports figures, legends on Broadway and Hall of Famers all, who wound up their careers in strange threads. Presented in chronological order:

1. Babe Ruth – The Sultan of Swat started and finished his career in Boston, but made his biggest mark in New York, where he hit 659 home runs and batted .349 during his 15 years with the Yankees. He left the Bronx in 1935 to join the Boston Braves, where he played 28 games and hit .181 before retiring. In one of his last appearances, on May 25, Ruth, right, belted three titanic home runs in a game in Pittsburgh, including his final home run, #714, the longest homer ever hit at Forbes Field. The Babe began his career as a pitcher for the Red Sox and won 89 games over six seasons before he was sold to the Yankees for $100,000 before the 1920 season.

2. Sam Huff – During his eight years as a New York Giant, Sam Huff never missed a game. He played in six NFL championship games, winning a ring in 1956, his rookie year. Huff was on the cover of TIME magazine at age 24, and was the feature subject in a CBS documentary called “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” Huff was traded to the Washington Redskins for defensive tackle Andy Stynchula and running back Dick James after the Giants lost the 1963 championship game to the Bears. He retired after the 1967 season, then returned to play for Vince Lombardi, a former offensive coach with the Giants and legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, in 1969.

3. Yogi Berra – It appeared as though Yogi Berra had played his last game in 1963. Yogi went to the dugout, where he managed the Yankees to the 1964 American League pennant. In a stunning development, Berra was fired after the Yankees lost a seven-game World Series to the Cardinals. He signed with the Mets as a free agent, and became a coach. However, Yogi played in four games with the Mets, catching in two of them, and had a pair of singles in nine at bats in his strange last hurrah. In his final game against the Milwaukee Braves at Shea Stadium, Berra struck out three times and was 0-for-4.

4. Willie Mays – The Say Hey Kid started and finished his career in New York, playing with two different National League franchises. separated by a 15-season stay by the bay in San Francisco. He began as a Giant in 1951 in New York, where he was National League Rookie of the Year. Mays, left, went West when the Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season, and was traded to the Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000 in 1972. Mays finished out his career in the 1973 World Series and knocked in the winning run with a 12-inning single against Oakland A’s reliever Rollie Fingers in Game Two. That Mets team, managed by another transplant Yogi Berra, lost to the A’s in seven games.

5. Don Maynard – The great wide receiver began his career with the Giants in 1958 and saw action in the 1958 NFL Championship game against the Colts, where he returned a pair of kickoffs, including one in overtime. Maynard then sat out the game for a year before joining the New York Titans in 1960. Maynard played 13 years for the Titans/Jets, where he had 633 receptions, 88 for touchdowns. He had a two-game, one-reception stint with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. Maynard finished his career with the Houston Texans – Shreveport Steamer of the World Football League (WFL) in 1974.

6. Eddie Giacomin – On October 29, 1975, Eddie Giacomin was placed on waivers by the New York Rangers and claimed by the Detroit Red Wings. One of the most popular players in Blueshirts history, Giacomin was an outstanding netminder in his 10 plus seasons with Rangers. Ironically, Giacomin’s first game with the Red Wings was Halloween, two days after he joined the Red Wings. Madison Square Garden partisans voiced their displeasure with the deal, and cheered on a win for Giacomin. Seeing limited duty, Eddie finished his career with Detroit two years later.

7. Tom Seaver – Tom Terrific, aka The Franchise, was the heart and soul of the New York Mets. He finished 25-7 in 1969 when he won his first Cy Young Award and led the Miracle Mets to their first World Championship. Seaver won Cy Young Awards in 1973 and 1975 as well, and in nearly 12 seasons with the Mets won 198 games, still the most in team history. Then on June 15, 1977, the Mets traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for four players – Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman and Pat Zachry. Seaver pitched for the Reds for nearly six seasons, returned to the Mets for one year in 1983, and wound up his career with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox before retiring after the 1986 season.

8. Joe Namath – Broadway Joe of Beaver, Falls, PA., quarterback under coach Bear Bryant at Alabama, signed a $400,000 contract after the 1965 NFL draft to play in New York, and soon owned the town. Namath, right, played 12 years for the Jets, becoming the face of the American Football League (AFL) when he led the Jets to an upset win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Before the 1977 season, Joe Willie was waived and picked up by the Los Angeles Rams. He won two of his first three starts, then had a horrible Monday night in a loss to the Chicago Bears. He backed up Pat Haden the rest of the season, and never threw another pass.

9. Walt Frazier – Clyde was a first round pick out of Southern Illinois in the 1967 NBA draft and played 10 years with the Knicks. Frazier was a key piece of the Knicks only two NBA champions. In Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers, the Willis Reed game, Frazier scored 36 points and added 19 assists in a Knicks blowout. Prior to the 1977 season, Frazier was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as payment for free agent Jim Cleamons. Frazier played his final two seasons and three games of the 1979-80 season with Cleveland before retiring. Clyde’s 4,791 assists are still the most in Knicks’ history.

10. Bryan Trottier – He’s the all-time Islander leader in a multitude of team categories, including games, assists and points. He won a Calder, Art Ross, Hart and Conn Smythe Trophy. And he led the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles beginning in 1980. Trotts signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 1990 season, and won two more Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. He retired after the 1994 season.

11. Patrick Ewing – The number one overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft, Ewing quickly turned things around and made the Knicks a contender. The Georgetown product is the franchise leader in just about every major category, including games, points, rebounds and blocked shots. But after 15 seasons in New York and losses in the 1994 and 1999 NBA Finals, Ewing was sent to Seattle in 2000 in a multi-team deal in which the Knicks also traded Chris Dudley to Seattle and received Glen Rice, Luc Longley, Travis Knight, Vladimir Stepania, Larazo Borrell, Vernon Maxwell and two first and two second round draft picks. Ewing played a year with the SuperSonics and a year with the Orlando Magic, then retired.

12. Brian Leetch – One of the best defensemen in NHL history, Leetch helped the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in a seven-game series in 1994. Leetch won the Conn Symthe Trophy that year as playoff MVP, and also won two Norris Trophies as top defenseman and the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. But late in the 2003-2004 season he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for prospects Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immon, and future first and second round draft picks. Leetch played his final season with the Boston Bruins and retired in 2005.

50 years ago: NFL plays as nation mourns JFK

With the flag flying at half staff, Nick Pietrosante left, and Detroit teammates stand during a moment of silence before the start of a game in Minnesota the weekend JFK was killed.

The car turned the corner as the motorcade wound through the streets of Dallas. Shots rang out…..and America would never be the same.

It was, Pete Rozelle would later admit, the worst decision of his life. Allowing the NFL to play a full Sunday of games less than two days after the assassination of  President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was the major blight on Rozelle’s otherwise glossy resume. Despite the pleas of many NFL owners, including Dallas Cowboys owner Clint Murchison Jr., Rozelle — citing JFK’s “avid love of sport” — determined that the games would go on.

Kennedy’s press secretary and Rozelle’s college classmate at the University of San Francisco, Pierre Salinger, told Rozelle the president would have wanted the games played. “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy. Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game. He thrived on competition,” Rozelle said in a statement.

And that Sunday, while the nation mourned its fallen leader, NFL games went on as scheduled in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee (Green Bay), Minnesota and Los Angeles. None were televised.

Rozelle was at Yankee Stadium and saw the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Giants, 24-17. He later told the New York Times: “I could not concentrate on the game. I brooded about my decision the entire game.”

In an interview around the time of his retirement, Rozelle was asked what his biggest mistake was as league commissioner: “Playing the game on Kennedy Sunday,” was his response

“Worst mistake Rozelle ever made.” said Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame linebacker.


Players and fans pay their respects to the late President Kennedy in Cleveland.

Signs point to Dallas
That Sunday, in Cleveland, where the Browns beat the Cowboys 27-17, Cleveland fans carried signs that pointed to the city of Dallas as having “killed the president.” The Cowboys fielded boos from a crowd angry over the assassination.

“We were the team from Dallas, Texas,” Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan said. “We were connected with killing the president of the United States.”

After beating the Eagles 13-10 in Philadelphia, Washington Redskins players asked coach Bill McPeak to send the game ball to the White House. They said they were “playing…for President Kennedy and in his memory.”

Less than an hour before kickoff of the early games that day, Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. In Pittsburgh, the Bears and the Steelers tied 17-17. “Before the game you’re usually talking about picking up blitzes,” said Pittsburgh running back Dick Hoak. “Instead, we were saying, ‘Did you hear that Oswald was shot?’ ”

In his autobiography, “Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney wrote: “[Rozelle] later told me it was the wrong decision, one of the few he regretted making during his term as commissioner.”  Rooney said, “There are more important things than playing football every Sunday.”

The fledgling American Football League exercised better judgment. The AFL postponed all games and pushed the end of the season back to December 22. The First AFL game played after the assassination was on November 28, Thanksgiving Day. Rookie coach Al Davis led the Oakland Raiders to a 26-10 win over the Broncos in Denver.

Bears players bow their heads prior to game against Pittsburgh in Chicago.

College football
Most college football games that weekend were either postponed or cancelled. Harvard, the President’s alma mater, and Yale were the first to announce they would not play. By Friday evening, all eastern schools had determined they would not take the field.

Oklahoma and Nebraska decided to play for the Big Eight title and an Orange Bowl berth. The Cornhuskers won, 29-20. In Miami, school president King Stanford was ready to tell the waiting crown of 57,773 at the Orange Bowl that the game with Florida had been cancelled but was talked out of it by the university’s board of trustees. The Gators won 27-21.

NBA, NHL, horses
Although most contests in the NBA and NHL were postponed, in New York, both the Knicks and Rangers played at Madison Square Garden the weekend that America mourned. The Knicks beat Detroit 108-99 on Saturday; and the Rangers tied the Maple Leafs 3-3 on Sunday. NHL games were staged in Montreal and Toronto over the weekend as well.

In addition to the Knicks, the St Louis Hawks and Cincinnati Royals split a home-and-home weekend series. The rest of the nine-team NBA — Celtics, Lakers, 76ers Warriors and Bullets — did not play on the weekend.

Horse racing and harness racing were cancelled across the country.

Personal: 50 years later, I vividly recall November 22, 1963. I was 12 years old, a seventh grader in Catholic elementary school in White Plains, New York,  when we were informed of JFK’s death over the school PA system. The entire school was sent into church to pray for the President, then we were sent home early. Strangely, when I arrived home with my younger brother and sister, my mother was not in the house. The woman living across the street from us had gone into labor, and my mother took her to the hospital where she delivered a baby girl. That joyous occasion was the only bright light in a memorably tearful weekend, one where I saw my father cry for the first time. The previous weekend, my father took me to Yankee Stadium to see my first NFL game. The Giants beat the 49ers, 48-14.

The Greatest Game Never Seen in New York

It may have been “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” But in New York, it was “The Greatest Game Never Seen.”

The famous 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and Colts was televised nationally on NBC, but blacked out in New York.

Fifty years later, New York football fans finally got a chance to see the game — or at least a colorized, condensed version of it —  on ESPN the other night. The contest, won by the Colts, 23-17, at Yankee Stadium, is still the only pro football championship game ever to go into overtime.

Why was the game blacked out in New York?  NFL policy at the time mandated a black-out all home games regardless of whether they were sold out. That policy was in effect virtually from the beginning of  the television era, until 1973, and still holds for games that are not sold out. In fact, all Super Bowl games prior to VII were blacked out in the host market.

The TV broadcasters that day were Chris Schenkel, the voice of the Giants, and Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Colts. Many Giants fans listened to Bob Wolff call the game on radio.

Connecticut Migration
Those days, Giants fans would migrate to Connecticut to see games, or build large antennas to pick up TV signals from Hartford and New Haven.

The Giants had a much tougher road to the 1958 championship than the Colts. Going into the final game of the regular season, they needed to beat the Cleveland Browns at Yankee Stadium to earn a tie at the top of the Eastern Conference.

A seven-year-old kid, I vaguely recall that game — the oldest sibling listening to the game in the car on the way back from a family trip to Brooklyn in a driving snowstorm. Pat Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the Giants a 13-10 win.

The following week, in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium, the Giants limited Jim Brown to a career-low eight yards in seven carries and shut out Cleveland, 10-0, their third win over the Browns that season.

The Colts were the more rested team in the championship game and it showed, as they wore down the Giants in the fourth quarter and overtime to earn the win. The game that  is credited with increasing the popularity of professional football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A total of 17 players, coaches and owners involved with the 1958 championship game are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s the list:

New York Giants
OL Rosey Brown
HB Frank Gifford
LB Sam Huff
WR Don Maynard
DE Andy Robustelli
DB Emlen Tunnell
Offensive Coordinator Vince Lombardi
Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry
Owner Tim Mara
Vice President / Secretary Wellington Mara

Baltimore Colts
WR Raymond Berry
DL Art Donovan
DL Gino Marchetti
HB/WR Lenny Moore
OL Jim Parker
QB Johnny Unitas
Head Coach Weeb Ewbank

Jim Brown: Best Runner in Football History

Jim Brown faces Green Bay in his final game, the 1965 NFL Championship

What’s the best team in football history? Who’s the greatest all-time hitter ever? The best boxer pound for pound?

You can spark some lively debates with any one of those questions about sports, or thousands of others like them.

But when it comes to the question of  who is the best running back in football ever, the answer is easy.

Jim Brown of course.

There are certain, well shall we say, certainties in life.

Water is wet. Fire is hot.

And Jim Brown is the best runner in football history.

Nine Years with Browns
Drafted sixth overall in the 1957 draft, Brown played nine years, all with the Cleveland Browns, and led the NFL in rushing eight times. Playing 12 and later 14-game schedules, he rushed for 1,000 yards every year but two, his rookie year of 1957 when he led the NFL with 942 yards, and 1962, when he lost five yards on his final carry of the season and finished with 996.

The following year, Brown set an NFL record with 1,863 yards rushing in 14 games. He finished his career with 12,312 yards gained rushing yards, which still ranks eighth all-time today.

In his career, he scored 126 touchdowns in just 118 games, averaging 104 yards per game, the only rusher in NFL history to average over 100 yards per game for a career. Brown still holds the career record for yards per carry (5.2).

For comparison’s sake, Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, finished with 18,355 yards — but he played in 226 games in his career, more than 100 more than Brown.

Before Brown, the NFL career rushing leader had been Joe Perry of the San Francisco 49ers, but Brown surpassed Perry’s 8,378 career yards in 1963, on his way to 12,312. Buffalo’s OJ Simpson broke Brown’s season record, rushing for 2,003 yards in 1973, and Walter Payton surpassed the career record during the 1984 season.

Four-Time NFL MVP
Brown was Rookie of the Year in 1957 and MVP in 1957, 1958, 1963 and 1965. Every year he played, Brown was voted into the Pro Bowl. He never missed a game in nine seasons, and earned an NFL title in 1964 when the Browns blanked the Colts, 27-0.

:”For mercurial speed, airy nimbleness and explosive violence in one package of undisputed evil, there is no other like Mr. Brown,” the noted sports columnist Red Smith once wrote.

Or as Sam Huff, former Giants linebacker, once described trying to tackle Jim Brown: “All you do, is grab hold, hang on and wait for help.”

In the summer of 1966, Brown stunned the sports world with the announcement that he was retiring from football to pursue an acting career. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

In 2002, Brown was named by The Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever. Brown was every bit as good a lacrosse player, with the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame stating that he was “widely considered to be the greatest lacrosse player ever.” Sportswriter Bert Sugar named Brown #1 in his book The Greatest Athletes of All Time.