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It isn't every day that I find myself deep into advertising copy, but a recent SI ad featuring a sports quiz grabbed my attention. "Test your knowledge of baseball over the past two decades," read the ad. O.K., I thought, I'll give it a go, and I did. Piece of cake. I was 3 for 3 on questions dealing with events in the 1970s. Then I came upon this startling bit of information: "1975. This team won the greatest World Series game ever played on a dramatic 12th-inning homer."
Whoa! I said. Hold it! Stop right there! Anyone who considers the sixth game of the '75 Series between the Red Sox and the Reds to be the greatest ever played is badly in need of confinement. The most exciting, dramatic World Series game ever played was the seventh game of the 1960 Series between the Pirates and the Yankees. I know. I was there.
I also am pretty certain about what caused the sad bit of misinformation that appeared in the ad. I would bet that the copywriter is 33, which would have made him 17 when Carlton Fisk hit his midnight dinger to temporarily sidetrack the Reds, but only two years old when Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski buried the Yankees. It wasn't that the writer weighed all the evidence and then decided that the '75 game was the best. The truth is, he probably had never heard of the 1960 World Series. I'm telling you, I run into this sort of thing all the time. There is an entire generation out there that thinks the world was created along about the weekend before Woodstock.
I was watching the Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler fight in 1987 with a young friend, and after it was over, he said, "Pound for pound, Sugar Ray Leonard must be the greatest fighter who ever lived. Don't you think so?" Pound for pound, I said, I don't think he's even the greatest Sugar Ray who ever lived.
"Well, it must have been the most exciting fight you ever saw," he insisted. Not even close, I told him. It couldn't hold a candle to the first Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight. "Things happened that night in Miami Beach—both before and during the fight—that would make your hair look like Don King's," I said. Even after the fight. That's when Clay decided to change his name to Muhammad Ali. I know. I was there.
I'm not sure what we veterans can do, collectively, to straighten these youngsters out, but as an individual I am going to attempt to make a small contribution. I wasn't at the Polo Grounds in 1951 when Bobby Thomson sent every New York Giants fan in the universe into ecstasy by parking one of Ralph Branca's fastballs into the leftfield seats to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers and win the pennant, and I wasn't hanging out of a classroom window at Oxford on the day in 1954 when Roger Bannister became immortal by running the mile in less than four minutes. But I have seen my share of unforgettable sporting events, and I'm going to tell you about a few that you should never forget either. They may seem obvious, but....
Pro football. Yankee Stadium, Dec. 28, 1958. Johnny Unitas takes the Baltimore Colts 80 yards downfield in the dusk and sends Alan Ameche thumping across from the one to beat the Giants 23-17 and win the NFL championship in the first overtime game in pro football history. That was 33 years ago, and nobody has seen a better football game since. (Yes, I was also at Super Bowl III in the Orange Bowl in 1969 when Joe Namath put his money where his big mouth was and, with considerable assistance from Matt Snell and a few dozen other guys, pulled off one of the major upsets in sports history. But I was never much of a Namath man. I'll take Unitas any day.)
Track and field. Mexico City, Oct. 18, 1968. I can't tell you that I actually saw Bob Beamon jump damn near off the edge of the planet—I mean, who ever really watched the long jump back then—but I was there. I was across the stadium at the finish line, watching the semifinal heats of the women's 80-meter hurdles, or something equally enthralling, when this huge roar went up. Across the way you could see the long jump scoreboard slowly revolving as it displayed the then unbelievable numbers—8.90 meters—and nearby this skinny kid hopping around as if killer bees had just invaded his red, white and blue outfit. That jump broke the old record by nearly two feet and stood nearly 23 years, until a month ago when Mike Powell broke it by two inches.
Baseball. I told you about Maz and his wondrous home run in the ninth inning of the seventh game at Forbes Field, but I have another entry you don't want to forget either: Yankee Stadium, Oct. 8, 1956. Don Larsen pitches a perfect game in the World Series, putting muzzles on Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese. I can still see Yankee catcher Yogi Berra charging the mound after the last out to climb Larsen's lanky frame like some pudgy, slightly berserk, pin-striped Jack going up the beanstalk. I'll never forget that.