This one ties together Good Times with Alex Karras, Jack Kemp, and Jimmy Hoffa. Enjoy.
Category Archives: pigskin
I’ve mainly written about basbeall over the past decade, but here’s a football piece. It’s my usual six degrees of separation type riff with some autobiographical tangents. Enjoy.
Mariano Rivera saved Enrique Wilson’s life. He blew Game Seven of the 2001 World Series but made his best save ever. Wilson was scheduled to fly home to the Dominican Republic on American Airlines Flight 587. But Arizona defeated the Yankees, so there was no victory parade. Instead, the utility infielder changed his travel plans and took an earlier flight home. Flight 587 crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens on November 12th, 2001. Rivera told Wilson “I am glad we lost the World Series because it means that I still have a friend.”
Chris Dial saved Alex Rodriguez’s life. Dial is a big baseball fan; has been a Mets fan since 1973. He developed a way of converting a fielder’s zone rating, or how often he fields balls in certain areas of the ball field, into runs saved for his team. Dial is also a chemist and inventor. He invented the Soft Ground Arrestor System. This is bubbly concrete placed at the end of a runway to slow down a plane that is going to fast. Think of it as a runaway truck ramp for airplanes. On Friday the 13th, October, 2006, Rodriguez and several others were on a private jet that made a hard landing at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California. The arrestor system stopped the plane.
Other sports stars haven’t had this luck with plane crashes; including some in pinstripes, as we shall soon see. Roberto Clemente might be the most famous one; flying a mission of mercy from Puerto Rico that never made it to Managua, Nicaragua. There was also Knute Rockne and Rocky Marciano. Team planes have crashed. There was Manchester United in 1958, the University of Evansville basketball team in 1977. There was a Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes and the survivors ate the dead. The movie Alive was about this incident.
But a more macabre story is that of Len Koenecke. Koenecke was a fairly decent outfielder in the Thirties. He didn’t really get a chance to play regularly until he was 27. He was a big drinker and that may have had something to do with his late start. His drinking problem was so bad that he got kicked off of the Dodgers and sent home. Keep in mind that this was when drinking in baseball was rampant. A few years earlier, Hack Wilson set the record for runs blottoed in while he was half in the bag. Koenecke had a few before his flight home and he stormed the cockpit. The pilot and copilot beat him off, but he kept coming. Finally, one of them grabbed a fire extinguisher and gave Koenecke on fierce blow and killed him.
In 1999, Payne Stewart’s crash was followed in real time. . Peter Finch must have been happy. Stewart was supposed to fly from Florida to Texas, but the plane he was a passenger in lost cabin pressure and it kept flying until it ran out of fuel and crashed into a Dakota field. Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison survived the 200 MPH ballet of the speedway, but both perished in aviation accidents. Allison was piloting a helicopter. Billy Southworth Jr. may have made the majors if it weren’t for World War II. He was International League player of the year once. Southworth became a bomber pilot and flew the requisite number of missions before rotating stateside. Alas, he crashed taking off on a routine mission from LaGuardia.
Southworth and Allison were second generation sports figures. Allison’s father was a NASCAR legend and Southworth’s dad was a Hall of Fame manager. But there are also plenty of brother combos from Hank and Tommie Aaron to Peyton and Eli Manning. There are even a few twins. Tiki and Ronde Barber were both in the NFL. (And Tiki wants back in.) Bob and Mike Bryan rule doubles tennis. There’s Ozzie and Jose Canseco. The New Britain Rock Cats once had a manager/pitching coach duo of Stan and Stu Cliburn. (This makes sense. They are a Minnesota Twins affiliated farm team.) Jim Thorpe had a twin brother who died young. Ryan Howard has a twin brother Cory. At one point Cory Lidle was his teammate with the Phillies. Lidle had a twin brother named Kevin.
Lidle crashed a plane into a New York City high-rise two days before Alex Rodriguez’s near crash. His brother Kevin was a ballplayer too. He played in the twilight world of indy league ball. One year he was on the Somerset Patriots. A teammate of his was a Florida kid named Jeff Anderson. Anderson’s father Jerry was a pilot himself. Back in 1979, the Anderson family lived in Canton, Ohio and Jerry was a passenger in a Cessna Citation when it crashed and burned while practicing take offs and landings. The pilot was another baseball player. His name was Thurman Munson.
From the Hartford Courant’s AP feed.
The Oakland Raiders announced the death of legendary quarterback and kicker George Blanda on their website Monday.
Blanda, who was 81, played 26 seasons in professional football, including stints with the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Colts and Houston Oilers before playing his final nine seasons with the Raiders. He retired in 1976 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
He holds several league records, including most PATs attempted (959) and made (943), oldest person to play in an NFL game (48 years, 109 days) and most seasons played.
In tribute, here’s a link to my piece suggesting that he’s the center of the football universe.
Slate pointed me towards this Wall Street Journal article from a year ago. It’s something that I have thought of before. I don’t think it was an original thought, I may have picked it up in one of the various cybersalons I hang out in. It’s ironic, that safety equipment such as a football helmet makes a sport more dangerous. I think gloves make boxing more dangerous, too. But the freak I am was enthralled by this little snippet:
Robert Cade, who is better known as an inventor of Gatorade, created a shock-absorbing helmet that was used by a number of NFL players in the 1970s.
I want to read up more about Cade. He sounds like a possible connector that I could write about.
This ad doesn’t make sense to me. Why is the driver looking at his left towards the football team then crashing into the motorcycles? Isn’t he heading straight into the team and shouldn’t he crash into some offensive linemen forming a pocket? If he’s looking to the left while staring at the team, he’s driving 90 degrees incorrectly down the road, perpendicular to the path of it. In any case, this ad was funnier to me before I figured out that it’s part of a series featuring Mr. Mayhem.
I got back into basketball pretty organically. It just sort of happened one summer. Once it took over my life, it wasn’t long before I wanted — or saw that it made sense to be — a generalist. Year-round sports, more material to mine, and the ability to hold my own in any basketball convo that, you know, veered off into another pastime. Comparisons are the devil, but if it weren’t for parallels, life would have no movement to it. If I’m being totally honest, and tired, I’ll have you know that the rush of fantasy sports had something to do with it, too. But I was lazy, uninspired, and it didn’t stick. I don’t think I got that every sport was special in its own way — perhaps too special.
I don’t always agree with Beth Shoals, but I like him as a writer more than any other sports guys. Someone should do a Free Darkoesque blog on baseball. I’ve tried, but failed. One could argue that baseball used to be more Free Darko in it’s glory days, but became less so as athletes with Willie Mays like qualities veered towards other sports. (Mays was a triple threat back in HS. He was a QB not unlike a Vick or Pat White and his best sport may’ve been hoops.) Why did this happen? This wouldn’t be the whole reason, but maybe the AFL and ABA bidding for the services of players showed high school stars that they could make more money playing those than baseball. Joe Namath was a more pivotal figure in sports labor history than I think folks give him credit for.