The latest addition to the Jobu’s Rum crew, Pacific Coast Steve, weighs in on Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and the top “misremembered” events in sports history. Welcome Pacific Coast Steve!
If you have not been reading the sports page lately, or reside west of New Jersey, let me share the news: Andy Pettitte is back after signing a minor-league deal with the New York Yankees. His resume is already Hall-of-Fame-worthy: 200 wins, five World Series rings, two-time twenty game winner.
However, allegations of performance-enhancing drugs surfaced in 2007. Pettitte was named in the now infamous Mitchell Report. Rather than go on the defensive and claim he was wrongfully accused, Pettitte verified the claims, saying that it was a one-time event aimed at speeding up healing from an injury. He then gave Congress a rather juicy bit of information, implicating Roger Clemens of repeated HGH use. Clemens’ response to these accusations unearthed a word that, while grammatically correct, would make both Merriam and Webster roll over in their graves.
Clemens claimed that Pettitte misremembered. Clemens never denied talking to Pettitte. However, according to Clemens, Pettitte did not lie to Congress. He did not fabricate events that never happened. Rather, he misremembered. Based on Clemens’ recollection, he admitted that he and Pettitte had a conversation, at some point, about something.
There are sports moments that, as time goes on, begin to fall into our mismemories. We remember, or are told, that something big happened, at some time, and that someone did it. However, the legend grows and expands into something it never was in the first place. “Did you see that guy hit that shot at the buzzer” becomes “do you remember when he knocked that team out of the playoffs” and sometimes even “won the title,” when, in reality, it was just another game.
In honor of Andy Pettitte’s return to the mound, I’ve put together five of the greatest sports moments whose importance tend to be misremembered:
5. The beginning of a dynasty – the “Tuck Rule” game.
Like all of these events, you can expect this one to play often on ESPN Classic. There was the confident, highly-talented Oakland team playing the relatively unknown, upstart New England with their plucky new quarterback (my, how things have changed). Oakland entered Foxboro under a tremendous amount of snow, and it was a low-scoring affair, with New England’s super strong defense (again, how things have changed) keeping Rich Gannon and his two Hall-bound wide receivers, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown (he’ll get there, I promise), at bay.
Unfortunately, the Pats offense struggled to put up only ten points in the first fifty-five minutes of the game. On their last offensive drive of regulation, Tom Brady was sacked by Charles Woodson and the ball came out, to be recovered by the Raiders… or so it seemed. Under section something paragraph something of the NFL rulebook, Brady was deemed to be in a continued passing motion, and the fumble was overturned. Adam Vinatieri put through not one, but two famously snow-blown field goals to win the game for the Pats and send them to…
A conference championship match against the Pittsburgh Steelers, not the Super Bowl, a fact often misremembered, even in the great Northeast.
4. Jordan over Ehlo, 1988
The video clip plays over and over and over again. It has become an advertisement: three seconds left, Michael Jordan gets the inbounds, jump shot over Craig Ehlo (who never had a chance), it falls and, in the words of the immortal Jim Durham, “THE BULLS WIN IT! THEY WIN IT!”
But what had they won? Not the NBA Championship. Not the Conference title. Heck, not even a spot in the Conference title round. It was the first round of the NBA playoffs. It was a six-seeded Chicago team defeating a three-seed Cavalier squad– an upset for sure, but nothing that is not seen every March in college conference tournaments, the Big Dance, or even the NIT. It was a great shot, and helped to build the Jordan legend, but it was not even the biggest game-winning shot of his career at that time (NCAA Championship, 1982).
3. Kirk Gibson homers off of Dennis Eckersley, 1988
As a San Francisco Giants fan, you learn to root for the Giants and any team playing the Dodgers, and, as such, I found myself going for the cross-bay Oakland Athletics. Dennis Eckersley entered the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and was given the expected Chavez Ravine welcome. Eckersley was a top-flight closer and was thought a lock to close out the Dodgers. Kirk Gibson was an injured afterthought, heard grunting in pain with every practice swing in preparation. On paper, it was Eckersley 99 times out of 100.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Eckersley walked Mike Davis as light-hitting Dave Anderson manned the on-deck circle. Tommy Lasorda calls for Gibson, who ended up running Eck to a full count. Gibson looked for the slider and got it.
The sidewinding pitch. The swing. The arm-pumping Gibson circling the bases. Another ESPN classic. Dodgers fans jumping up and down as if they had won the World Series…
Which they would do… four games later. It was Game One, people!
2. Bill Buckner’s error in the World Series, 1986
Sticking with the baseball theme, let’s talk Buckner. Yeah, that Buckner. If you were a Red Sox fan, 1986 was your hell. It seemed that it would be the closest the Red Sox would ever get to breaking the curse. I was introduced to the curse in 2000 at Boston College, and the rest of the troubles of the poor, constantly heartbroken Red Sox fan base. It started and ended with five words: Bucky bleeping Dent, and Bill Buckner.
Buckner’s miscue is well documented. Grounder to first buy a guy named Mookie, between the legs of a guy with a sweet ‘stache, ballgame over.
However, if you are not from New England or have never experienced New England sports, it always seemed like that was the end of the series, which, of course, it was not. Boston’s series-clinching hopes were dashed again in a game seven, which the Mets won 8-5. No fingers pointed at game seven loser Calvin Schiraldi. Buckner became the ultimate goat for a less-than-forgiving fan base for almost twenty years.
Sox fans can talk about it today with a smile on their collective faces, as if only an afterthought. Pardon Billy Boy if he is not as forgetful.
1. The “Miracle on Ice” game, the 1980
The misrememberedest sports event has had its fair share of airtime. It too is an ESPN classic, has unforgettable sound bytes, and has become an inspiration for younger generations. It helped end the Cold War… or something like that. It has resulted in a pretty darn good movie too…
It’s the “Miracle on Ice” game, the 1980 Olympic hockey match pitting the young United States against the highly favored, highly Ivan Drago-ed Soviet Union team. No one gave the US a chance, especially after being easily dismantled by the Soviets 10-3 in an exhibition game not long before the Olympic trials.
“WHO DO YOU PLAY FOR?!?!”
If you have not seen the movie, it’s easily Kurt Russell’s best acting job since Escape from L.A. Unlike today’s Olympics, professional athletes were not allowed to partake in the Games, leaving Herb Brooks to select from some of the nation’s best young players. The NHL had yet to be overrun by the Petrovs, Federovs, Samsonovs and all of the other –ovs, leaving the USSR with an older, more disciplined team.
Of course, there was that whole communism/capitalism angle, not to mention the space race and American boycott of the Summer Olympics to be held in Moscow. It was Red Sox-Yankees, Duke-UNC, Cowboys-Eagles and David-Goliath wrapped into one. Given all of these external factors, this game was more than just a game long before the puck dropped.
“DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!?!? YES!”
These words, immortalized by the great Al Michaels, were shouted after a back-and-forth game had come to an end. Tied 2-2 after one period, the Soviets took a one-goal lead into the third period. Improbably, the US scored a game-tying goal eight minutes into the third. Here’s where the mismemories begin:
— Mike Eruzione gave the United States a 4-3 lead with ten minutes left in the game. It was not last-minute heroics by the Boston University winger.
— The Soviet Union did not pull its goalie to create a six-on-five, last-minute surge to try to pull even. They did, however, pepper Jim Craig with shots in typical fashion.
— Even with the movie rights, many people still get this last one wrong, especially those of us who were not even born when “Miracle” happened. The game was not for the gold medal. Rather, it was just one in the round-robin format that existed in the Games. The United States went on to defeat Finland (in a comeback, nonetheless) to clinch the gold medal.
All of these moments have their place in athletic glory. Even those who were not there “remember where they were when…” As they get passed down to younger generations, the legend grows. The important lesson here is to, the next time you witness an important moment in sports history, make sure you can recall all of the important pieces, or you too will be charged with misrememberance.
Featured images courtesy of: Getty Images