Giants Among Us

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I’ll let you figure out who the giant is…

Thanks to a YouTube user named Nigel John for uploading the recent HBO documentary about the life of Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff. It was one of the better pieces about Andre I’ve yet to see, and there’s been a lot of work in “pop culture” in the quarter of a century since the big man has passed on that’s out there.

(Footnote: the documentary, as many seem to do, seems to forget that Andre was the WWF champion in February of 1988 very briefly, ending Hulk Hogan’s four-year reign with the belt. When Andre gave the title up to a fellow wrestler who didn’t earn it, the title was “held up” – not awarded to anyone – until “Macho Man” Randy Savage won a subsequent tournament.)

I’ve never seen Andre personally, but I once met the world’s tallest woman, Sandy Allen. I met her a few weeks before my ninth birthday in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada in 1980 on a New York vacation. I had relatives in Geneva, New York at the time, so off we went one day westward for my first and only (to date) trip to another country.

My mother still kids me about what I said to Canadian customs as we crossed the border. Remember, this was 1980 – long before 9/11, long before any President thought of building border walls. As was customary, the border agents asked if we have anything to declare.

The eight-year-old version of me didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the question. My cousins and I had munched on some bananas and Cheerios (without milk, because that could get messy) on the way to the border, so that’s what came to my mind.

“Only these bananas,” I said, holding the yellow fruit up for the agents to see. Everyone in the car looked at me as if I had somehow pledged allegiance to Satan or something.

There was a Guinness Book of World Records exhibit in Niagara Falls at the time. Around that time, I had gotten the paperback version of one of their yearly editions at a book fair at my elementary school, and that piqued my interest. There was also a short-lived game show around that time called The Guinness Game where contestants were staked with money and wagered on whether or not attempts at various world records would be successful.

(Footnote: I once had the home version board game of the show. No kidding.)

Two things I remember: a very big pinball game on display with a ball the size of a baseball moving around the electronic board, and meeting Sandy Allen.

One of the photos that didn’t pass the test of time was of me, two of my cousins, and Sandy towering above all of us. In the photo, I’m the tallest of the three children, but Allen is towering over me with ease, and still would if I had met her having reached my full height of roughly six feet and an inch.

In the photo, she’s resting the right forearm on top of my head – that I remember. I’m pretty sure my mother and aunt got a chuckle out of that. Meanwhile, I’m holding as still as I can – I don’t want to get this mountain of a woman mad at me!

I wish I still had that pic. It always brought out amazement whenever I showed it to friends. I’d tell them, no – I’m not that tall. But this woman, she’s huge!

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The Wrath Of Conor

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You can tell from the press the incident got that this was not a publicity stunt, or anything staged like those organizations with “W’s” in their acronyms do.

Conor McGregor, the MMA star who fought Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match last year before being stopped in the tenth round, caused a bit of a scene at a UFC press event this Thursday past in Brooklyn. Grabbing a hand truck, he threw it into a bus full of MMA fighters, shattering windows and injuring two fighters, and causing three fights on the card to be canceled or altered.

Not a good look all the way around. Conor’s now in a lot of hot water, arrested by the NYPD and perhaps staring at jail time. His future with UFC is also very much in doubt at the moment.

That being said, he still has a lot of career choices. I could see him following Ronda Rousey into the WWE – his attitude would seem a perfect fit for their scripted world. He could go into boxing, or join a rival MMA organization. Doing any of those things wouldn’t tarnish his career any, and would grant whatever group that signs him up a bit of a buzz when he debuts there.

To me, it is another illustration of how poor sportsmanship has been glorified to the point where it has become a new normal. When Mike Tyson famously bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997, I wondered what message that kind of foul play sent to youngsters. I can’t help wonder about the message McGregor has sent in 2018.

Not a good look for anybody. For sports, for MMA, for sportsmanship.

Aircheck: CBS, 4/14/1968

The final round coverage by CBS of the last 50 Masters golf tournaments (from 1968 to 2017 at present) went online on YouTube this past month. I’ve always wanted to see how the controversial 1968 event was handled, so kudos to Augusta National for finding and archiving this footage.

Long story short: the ’68 Masters should have ended on April 15th, not April 14th. Under the rules of the time, if there was a tie for the lowest score (in golf, the lower your score is, the better), the golfers tied would come back the following day for an 18-hole playoff. The Masters scrapped this format in 1976, opting for a hole-for-hole “sudden death” format that was first used three years later.

Roberto DeVincenzo lost his shot at a playoff with Bob Goalby that year during to a scoring error made by DeVicenzo’s playing partner that day, Tommy Aaron. Aaron incorrectly scored Roberto having made a par on the 17th hole, which DeVicenzo actually birdied. The error was alluded to by Pat Summerall late in the coverage but wasn’t officially announced until the “Butler Cabin” ceremony anchored by Frank Gifford. Instead of the playoff, Goalby was declared the winner by one stroke with USGA rules stating that in the event of the error (that went uncaught by DeVicenzo), the higher of the disputed scores stands.

To me, even in 1968, this is the kind of thing where an error like that could have been corrected. Golf hasn’t embraced modern technology the way other sports have, and on this one day, it worked to DeVicenzo’s detriment.

The Pastime

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Don’t look now, but baseball season begins today.

I had previously said during my 2018 Predictions that I thought this was going to be a good year for the Yankees and the Dodgers, and I stick to those two clubs for my World Series forecast. Three other teams worth keeping an eye on would be the Red Sox, the Cubbies, and the defending titleholders, the Houston Astros.

Locally here in Tampa Bay, it could be a long campaign with all these matchups with Boston and the Yankees. It’ll be a good year for the Rays if they complete 2018 at the .500 mark of 81 wins and 81 losses.

Best of success to all 30 organizations, and may the best team hold the prize sometime in late October or early November.

Aircheck: WABC Radio (New York), 7/13/1971

With some added computer hobby time with my newfound exclusion of Facebook, I thought it’d be a good time to bring back the Saturday “Aircheck” feature.

Howard Cosell would have turned 100 on Sunday.

Not too much tape exists of his “Speaking Of Sports” broadcasts that aired several times daily over the ABC radio network. Here is one such clip of the “The Gifted One” the day of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game of that year, famous for Reggie Jackson’s bodacious home run blast that hit Tiger Stadium’s roof.

Breaking Backboards

Another feel-good story emanating from the NCAA basketball tournament is that of Loyola of Chicago’s Ramblers. They’ve now made the “Sweet 16” phase of the tournament with wins over Miami of Florida and Tennessee, making a folk hero out of 98-year-old Sister Jean, perhaps the biggest fan of the Ramblers there is.

Loyola’s no stranger to the NCAA tournament, actually winning the whole shebang in 1963 defeating then basketball powerhouse Cincinnati. My first memories of seeing the school play go back to watching them play on WGN in 1979 against Bradley and watching a forward named Kevin Sprewer.

In late 1979, there was a lot of talk about dunking the ball so hard that the glass backboards holding the rims in place were breaking. Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers had famously broken two backboards, one in Kansas City versus the Kings, then again a few weeks later when the Sixers entertained San Antonio.

The dunk against Kansas City was and remains the most impressive dunk I’ve ever seen, not only breaking the backboard but shattering all of the glass entirely. The rim somewhat remained intact: I guess it was somehow bolted to its support base.

Move ahead to Christmas time of 1979 and this Loyola-Bradley game. Loyola forward Kevin Sprewer stole a pass and went in for the point-blank dunk shot. Off came the rim as the glass backboard crystalized, signifying it’s newly found redundancy. It’s the first and only time I’ve ever seen a dunk break a backboard either in person or on TV as it happened. The game was held up as a new goal could be found and assembled.

The eight-year-old version of myself watched in awe, and to be honest, a bit horrified. All those of shards of glass from these broken backboards could hurt somebody, I must have thought. Over the next few years, technology allowed stronger rims were constructed, making backboard shattering a bit of a lost art, thankfully. There was the talk of the NCAA once again banning the dunk shot as they did in the 1960s, but nothing ever came of that. The art of dunking proved popular, and college basketball would soon be riding the wave of popularity they still enjoy here in 2018.

Once in a while, you see a high school or a college player shatter a backboard and getting their 15 minutes of fame. Let them have it. I still say the dunk “Chocolate Thunder” pulled off in Kansas City was the greatest of them all.

 

One? Done!

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Cross another item off of my sports bucket list. I lived long enough to see a 16 seed beat a 1 seed in the men’s NCAA hoops tournament.

When I think of the greatest three upsets in American sports history, three events usually come to mind. The United States defeating the Soviets in a medal round game in the 1980 Winter Olympics, Mike Tyson getting knocked out to lose the heavyweight boxing title to Buster Douglas in 1990, and Virginia;s loss to Chaminade in a 1982 college basketball game when Virginia had a dominant team led by Ralph Sampson. Ironically, UMBC’s stunning win replaces Virginia’s loss to Chaminade on that list for me.

It was such a big upset, I missed watching it. That’s how big it was.

Bravo to UMBC. You’ll be part of sports history forever.