For the umpteenth time, I recently saw highlights of the New York Jets’ 1968 championship season and their colossal upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V. Joe Namath was a tremendous competitor. His confidence was the Jets’ lightning rod. Joe was rightfully the MVP of that game despite the fact that he is the only winning QB in Super Bowl history not to have thrown a TD pass.
In 1968, Dick McAuliffe of the Detroit Tigers set a record when he became the first AL player to play more than 150 games in a season without grounding into a single double play. Also in 1968, Detroit’s Denny McLain posted 31 wins in the regular season, a feat you’ll never see again in this age of specialization.
African boxing legend Dick Tiger, never before knocked out in 77 fights over 16 years, stood in a corner of his dressing room in Madison Square Garden trying to explain how it feels. "I do not see anything, I do not hear anything," he said. "Everything is all quiet, and it is dark. There is no pain, there is no sound. I do not know I was on the floor. Was I on the floor?" Yes, just two minutes into the fourth round of their 1968 fight for the light-heavyweight championship, Dick Tiger was on the floor, where Bob Foster had put him. Dick Tiger was a tremendous fighter.
1968 was a big year for Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks. Mikita won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer during the regular season. He also won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP.
In 1968, I was 29. Hard to imagine how quickly the years have gone. Seemingly, the clock of life ticks even faster than the clock of a sports event.
WORST SPORTS COMEBACKS
PER KEVIN HENCH OF FOX SPORTS:
#5. Ricky Williams
Frustrated by the NFL's drug policy and not overly enamored with the game of football to begin with, Williams embarked on a soul-searching walkabout that briefly made him one of the most intriguing people in sports. Things got sticky-icky for Ricky when the Dolphins took exception to underwriting his world tour and asked for their money back. It's unclear if Williams found what he was looking for on his sojourn, but he was definitely not what Miami was looking for in a running back upon his return.
After serving a four-game suspension at the start of the 2005 season, he burst back onto the NFL scene with eight yards on five carries in a loss to the Buccaneers, then followed that up with six carries for a net loss of one yard in a loss to the Chiefs. Williams ended up with decent stats last year — 743 yards and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average — but then flunked another drug test, his fourth violation of the league's substance abuse policy, earning a one-year suspension.
After seeking sanctuary in the CFL, Williams broke his arm playing for the Toronto Argonauts and finds himself in his usual spot — on the sideline.
(Editorial: Miami still owns the rights to Williams. Last month, the NFL announced that Williams was again tested…………with the usual results. He’s finished, and like too many superior athletes, it’s a great waste of talent.)
#4. Ben Johnson
Determined to prove that his run to Olympic glory in Seoul in 1988 hadn't been fueled entirely by banned substances, Johnson mounted a comeback in 1991. Propped in the starting blocks of the 100-meter semifinal heat in Barcelona in '92, he had his chance. He finished dead last, thereby convincing the sports world that his run to Olympic glory had been fueled entirely by steroids. He failed another drug test in 1993 and received a lifetime ban, which he fought unsuccessfully to have overturned in court. In October '99, Johnson entered his first "competition" since the lifetime ban and finished third behind the two horses he was racing in a charity event.
#3. Jose Canseco
Enough already. You're done. Though this is probably more sideshow than genuine comeback attempt, Canseco is hitting .186 for the Long Beach Armada of the independent (very independent) Golden Baseball League. Canseco no doubt thinks he's being kept out of baseball for violating the juicers' omerta, but the guy is 42 and was a one-dimensional liability when he last played in the bigs in 2001. Since then, Canseco has failed auditions with the Angels, Expos and Dodgers, which is still less embarrassing than sinking with the Armada.
#2. Muhammad Ali
The Greatest of All Time gave us one of the best and two of the worst comebacks of all time. Two years after beating Leon Spinks to reclaim his title, Ali came out of retirement to fight former sparring partner and new champ Larry Holmes. The Easton Assassin pounded a diminished Ali mercilessly — though Holmes would later claim to have pulled some punches in deference to his idol — on his way to an 11th-round TKO. The image of Ali slumped on his stool stands in stark contrast to his triumphant poses over Sonny Liston and Foreman. As if the loss to Holmes wasn't bad enough, Ali further tarnished his legacy a year later, losing a unanimous decision to the immortal Trevor Berbick.
#1. Michael Jordan
Not only did Michael grow mortal right in front of our eyes, but his ill-advised comeback with the Wizards splattered paint on the Mona Lisa of career-capping finishes. Instead of the storybook ending with his wrist bent as the championship-winning jumper splashed through the net, we're left with images of a cranky old man glowering at Kwame Brown. Yuck!
Now For My #1.
The failed comeback that is most disappointing to me is that of the great Joe Louis. He had lost but two fights from 1934-1951 during a brilliant career. On Friday, October 26, 1951 at age 37, Joe Louis stepped into the Madison Square Garden ring with the young heavyweight, Rocky Marciano. Louis had retired as heavyweight champ on March 1, 1949, but began his comeback in September, 1950. After losing to Ezzard Charles, he fought eight no-names, and won them all. That set up the Marciano fight. Louis was knocked out in the eighth round. I’ve seen films of that fight many times, and I’m terribly saddened by them.
Why the comeback? Despite his substantial earnings from his long career in the ring, Louis was in need of money to satisfy the government that was legally pursuing him for payment of back taxes. The fact that Louis had no savings can be laid to two things; bad management by those who had handled his career and the fact that Joe Louis liked the very high life. For more about Joe Louis, see my article dated 10-25-01.
Last Week’s Trivia
After the Yankees loss to Milwaukee to square the 1981 playoff series to two games apiece, Steinbrenner blew a fuse in the Yankees locker room after the game. It was catcher Rick Cerone who blasted back, “Fxxx you, George!” Surprisingly, George did not overreact. Cerone helped the Yankees win the series with a homer, and he spent three more years with the Yankees, and then returned, not once but twice more in later years.
Trivia Question of the Week
At the tail end of his career, relief wizard Rollie Fingers was prepared to hook up with the Cincinnati Reds, but the two sides hit a snag during contract negotiations, and Fingers chose to retire instead. What problem kept Rollie out of a Reds uniform? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.