5. Bob Feller had two no-hitters broken up in late innings by Bobby Doerr of the Red Sox.
Lady Nemesis hangs out a lot in the Boston area. Beantown's teams and athletes have more than a nodding acquaintance with her, both as friend and foe. The Red Sox, of course, are an ongoing Greek tragedy. For years the Celtics were the bête noire of the Lakers. In 1962 Frank Selvy missed an easy shot against Boston that would have given the Lakers the NBA championship. In '69 Don Nelson beat the Lakers in the playoffs with a shot that bounced straight into the air off the rim and back through the net. Los Angeles didn't break the spell until last season, thanks in large part to Larry Bird's personal nemesis, Michael Cooper.
The New England Patriots were so locked in a funk in the early 1980s that they hired a team psychiatrist, Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr. Among other things, the team was on an 18-game losing streak to the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Dr. Nicholi did such a good job that after one victory in 1985 the Patriots awarded him a game ball. They became the first team to win three playoff games on the road, including the '85 AFC championship game in the Orange Bowl. And even though the Chicago Bears handed the Pats their helmets in the Super Bowl two weeks later, New England at least had gotten a few nemeses out of the way.
Says Dr. Nicholi, "Whenever something—like losing in the Orange Bowl—happens repeatedly, there is usually some reason other than the difference in talent. There's probably a psychological barrier. Perhaps the greatest psychological barrier in all of sports, the greatest nemesis as you might call it, was the four-minute mile. There was a kind of taboo on the other side, a terrible consequence. Some people even thought runners would die on the other side of four minutes. One of the reasons Roger Bannister was able to break it was his willingness to do just that, die.
"While the Patriots' psychological barrier was not that dramatic or clear-cut, there were some unconscious fears at work that led to self-defeating behavior. What I tried to do was get them, like Bannister, to visualize victory."
Now the Patriots, who beat the Dolphins in Miami in both 1986 and '87, have become a nemesis for Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino. Against the rest of the league, Marino has a career rating of 98, a completion percentage of 61.7%, an average of 8.01 yards per pass, 153 touchdowns and 64 interceptions. Against the Patriots, he has a rating of 66.8, a 53.1% completion percentage, an average of 6.21 yards per catch, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. "I'd say it's a combination of things," says the Patriots' defensive backfield coach, Jimmy Carr. "Our offense does a great job of keeping their offense off the field, and we've got some pretty good matchups on defense. If Marino were tipping off his plays, I wouldn't tell you."
Says Marino, "I guess you could say the Patriots are my nemesis. I can't really explain it. except to say they've got some pretty good players on defense. These things go in cycles, though, and I'm sure I'll get them eventually."
The Boston Bruins are both nemesis and nemesisee. They get the short end of the stick against the Montreal Canadiens, having lost to them in the playoffs 18 times, without winning, since 1946. But Boston has dominated Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers at Boston Garden. The Bruins are 10-2-1 at home against the Stanley Cup champions since 1979.
THE FRIENDLY GHOST
The reason the Bruins dominate the Oilers is an unimposing center named Steve Kasper. The 5'8", 170-pound Kasper doesn't score much, and he will probably never play in the NHL All-Star Game. But he hustles all the time, and when Boston plays Edmonton, he draws Gretzky. He picks him up in the neutral zone and shadows and pesters him. Since Kasper started hounding Gretzky eight years ago. the Great One's line has never scored more than two goals in a game against the Bruins. "Steve plays me hard, and he plays me fair," says Gretzky. "He shuts me down, and he deserves credit."