David Bruce: Sports Anecdotes

• Bill Nack was first sports editor and then editor of The Daily Illini. He loved horses and while he was sports editor and Roger Ebert was editor, he ran stories on all of the major horse races. Mr. Ebert remembers, “We had only one photo of a horse. We used it for every winner. If it was a filly, we flipped it. Of this as his editor I approved.” Mr. Nack served in Vietnam and then started writing for Newsday. At a Newsdayholiday party, he stood on a desk and recited from memory the winners of the Kentucky Derby — every winner, complete with names and dates. Dave Laventhiol, Newsdayeditor, asked him why he knew that information. Mr. Nack replied, “It’s the Damon Runyan in me.” Mr. Laventhiol then offered Mr. Nack his dream job: “Would you like to cover the races for Newsday?” In five minutes, he had the job, but he did have to write a note asking for the job so that Mr. Laventhiol could post it on the bulletin board for the curious who would wonder why Mr. Nack was making a radical change in what he wrote about for Newsday. In the note, Mr. Nack wrote, “After covering politicians for four years, I would like the chance to cover the whole horse.”

• Actor and musician Tim Robbins, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2003 for Mystic River, is a sports fan. On his 11stbirthday, he and his grandmother sat in the last row of Shea Stadium as the New York Mets won the World Series. The fans went onto the field and grabbed handfuls of grass as souvenirs. Tim remembers, “I really wanted to join this madness on the subway, but I could see the terror in my grandmother’s eyes. On the way home a guy gave me some of his big wad of grass. I kept it for years.” He also plays hockey, and he says, “Ice hockey is a really cerebral game. It can be a beautiful ballet. But I have to keep my head up when I am playing as there’s always that *ssh*le who recognizes you and wants to tell their friends how they laid Tim Robbins out on the ice.”

• Tom Danehy, columnist for Tucson Weeklyin Tucson, Arizona, is also a coach in many sports. For example, he coaches middle school six-man flag football during the late summer and early fall. In 2011, his star player was Hope, a left-handed Asian girl. About Hope, Mr. Danehy says, “In probably half the games this season, she was clearly the best athlete on the field for either team.” Having a girl on the team doesn’t bother the other players, but some adults are puzzled and one asked Mr. Danehy, “So, what are you trying to prove? Is this some kind of social experiment?” He replied, “Dude, your kid’s team just got whupped, and that ‘social experiment’ accounted for four touchdowns.” (Hope returned an interception for a touchdown, passed for a touchdown, and ran for two touchdowns.)

• In October 2009, the primary sponsor of U.S. Speedskating — the Dutch bank DSB — went bankrupt. The 2010 Winter Games were coming up, and the company could not donate the $300,000 it had pledged. Luckily on 2 November 2009, comedian Stephen Colbert announced that his show was becoming the team’s primary sponsor. He asked viewers to make small donations, and the U.S. Speedskating team received over $300,000 donated by approximately 9,000 people. It was a good investment — the team won 10 medals at the Olympic Games. Why did Mr. Colbert do this good deed? He explained, “Believe me, I spent 20 years racking up huge debts pursuing comedy.”

• Bill Cosby was an athlete before he became a stand-up comedian and movie and TV star. He once became the high jump champion of the Middle Atlantic Conference by psyching out his opponents. He had not been jumping well, managing to clear only about six feet. However, at the meet a bump was on the approach to the high jump, and a few athletes had complained about it. Soon, Bill’s voice was heard coming loudly from a tent: “There’s really a terrible bump out there. There’s no way anybody is going to jump over five-ten today.” Mr. Cosby won the championship with a jump of only six feet, which was actually a short height in that event.

• Babe Zaharias was a female professional athlete when few female professional athletes existed. She won Olympic gold medals in track and field and helped start the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), but she played (and often excelled in) many other sports. A reporter once asked her if there was anything she did not play. She replied, “Yeah. Dolls.” Lots of people thought that playing sports was a masculine trait, and a woman once asked her, “Where are your whiskers?” Babe replied, “I’m sitting on them, sister, just like you.”

• The soccer team of Magdeburg, Germany, had failed to score a single goal in five matches, so in March 2012 their fans decided to help. Figuring that perhaps the team players did not know where their goal was located, the fans held up arrows pointing to the goal during a match against a Berlin team. That way, their players would know where to kick the soccer ball. Other fans held up a banner that read, “We’ll show you where the goal is!” Magdeburg did score a goal, but lost the match, 2-1.

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David Bruce: Baseball Anecdotes

• Lots of baseball players have superstitions that they follow. For example, Randy Johnson used to sleep with his head at the foot of the bed the night before he was scheduled to pitch. However, he fell asleep one night with his head at the head of the bed, and the next day he pitched and won. Following that experience, he said, “I don’t have any superstitions any more.” As a pitcher, Mr. Johnson could be intimidating. While pitching AAA baseball, he hit a batter who started coming toward the plate. Mr. Johnson’s teammate Brian Holman remembers, “Randy screamed at him, ‘Don’t mess with me. I’ll take your life.’ The guy went right to first base.” At 6-feet-10, Mr. Johnson was the tallest player in major-league baseball. He was also a photographer, having studied fine arts in college. One day, he walked near an industrial dumpster. He was tall enough to see what was inside: a car perfectly positioned to fit in the dumpster’s tight confines. Mr. Johnson took a much-admired photograph of the car and dumpster.

• Pete Rose often put himself in the right place at the right time. He and fellow Cincinnati Red Alex Johnson played in the outfield together in a day when Mr. Johnson was having a little difficulty fielding. Mr. Johnson ran to catch a long line drive hit by Hank Aaron. He jumped in the air, but the baseball bounced off his glove—into the glove of Mr. Rose, who had run all the way from center field to back him up. A little later, after Mr. Johnson made an error when he mishandled a line drive that came straight to him, he joked to Mr. Rose, “Where the h*ll were you?” Mr. Rose continued his hard play later when he was a Philadelphia Philly. In game 6 of the 1980 World Series (with the Phillies leading 3 games to 2), hard-hitting Frank White of the Kansas City Royals popped up. Phillies catcher Bob Boone dropped the ball, but Mr. Rose, who had hustled from first base to back him up, caught the ball before it hit the ground, making an out. The next Royal struck out, and Mr. Rose was once again a World Champion.

• One baseball player who never lost his enthusiasm for the job was relief pitcher Tug McGraw. Steve Fireovid, who had a brief career in the major leagues as a pitcher (71 innings over his 15 years in professional baseball), remembers that Mr. McGraw, then in the final year of his 20 years in baseball, would go into the Philadelphia clubhouse and scream, “ANOTHER DAY IN THE BIG LEAGUES!” Mr. Fireovid marvels, “This guy had been doing this for two decades, and he still had all this enthusiasm.” Mr. Fireovid did work hard as a baseball pitcher, despite pitching only briefly in the big leagues. He once pitched in Puerto Rico during the winter, and in one game he pitched a two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and no walks. The next day, he carefully checked all the box scores from the league in Puerto Rico. His pitching had been by far the best of the night, and he realized that he had achieved a lifelong dream: “One day in your life, be the best in the world at what you do.”

• On May 31, 1993, young Los Angeles Dodger catcher Mike Piazza attempted to throw a Cardinal base runner out, but instead he hit Dodger pitcher Tom Candiotti on the butt. Players on both teams laughed, and the next day all of the Dodger pitchers arrived at the ballpark with an addition to their uniforms: They were wearing targets on their butts. Another mishap early in Mr. Piazza’s career came about because of the Dodgers’ international — American, Japanese, Mexican, Dominican Republic, Korean — pitching staff. He went to the pitching mound and started speaking Spanish to Japanese hurler Hideo Nomo, who did not speak Spanish. Mr. Piazza later explained, “Brain cramp.”

• On July 15, 1973, California Angel Nolan Ryan pitched a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium. He was so overwhelming as a pitcher that when the Tigers’ Norm Cash came out to bat with two outs in the 9thinning, he carried an enormous table leg (that he had gotten from a wooden table in the Tigers clubhouse) instead of a normal bat. Mr. Ryan yelled to the umpire, “Check his bat.” Umpire Ron Luciano looked at the table leg and told Mr. Cash, “Get rid of it.” Mr. Cash protested, “But I’ve got no chance with a bat.” He was right. Using a normal bat, he popped up and made an out, and Mr. Ryan recorded his second no-hitter of the season.

• Early in his career, Philadelphia Phillie Mike Schmidt had a huge swing. Teammate Willie Montanez used to say “Achoo, achoo” when Mr. Schmidt was around, joking that he had caught a cold from the breeze of the slugger’s swing. Mr. Schmidt ended his career with 548 home runs, but he could have one more. In 1974, he hit what must be the longest single in history when the baseball was stopped by a loudspeaker that hung from the Astrodome. The baseball almost certainly would have gone into the center-field bleachers if it had not hit the loudspeaker, which was hanging 117 feet above the baseball field, 360 feet from the home plate.

• When Christy Mathewson, who was later a Hall of Fame major-league pitcher, started pitching for a minor-league baseball team in Taunton, Massachusetts, the batters hit his pitches hard. Near the end of the game, he learned that the catcher was a friend of the veteran pitcher for Taunton. To help ensure that his friend did not lose his position as veteran pitcher, the catcher was telling the batters which pitch Christy was going to throw.

• Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench could make a point with his catching. In a game against the Dodgers, Cincinnati pitcher Gerry Arrigo was throwing a very good curveball, but a very slow fastball. To make exactly that point, Mr. Bench caught one of Mr. Arrigo’s fastballs barehanded. Both teams laughed, and Mr. Arrigo’s fastball got a whole lot faster.

• Many people regard 7 as a lucky number. As a Minnesota Twin, infielder Frank Quilici wore No. 7 on his uniform. Later, Mr. Quilici returned to Minnesota as a coach. Because someone else was wearing No. 7, he wore No. 43 — which he chose because its digits add up to 7.

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David Bruce: Sports Anecdotes

One of country comedian Jerry Clower’s greatest disappointments was being in the hospital in 1969 when No. 2 ranked Yahoo City played No. 1 ranked Murrah in high school football. This was disappointing for several reasons: His son was playing for Yahoo City, and Mr. Clower had led the team in prayer before each and every game. Still, Mr. Clower yahooed as he listened on the radio, and Yazoo City beat Murrah 20-6. The next day, he received a wonderful surprise. Members of the Yahoo City football team came to his hospital bedroom, and they presented him with the game football. (By the way, Yazoo City remained undefeated for the rest of the season and finished ranked No. 1 in the state.)

In 1982, when the Super Bowl pitted Cincinnati against San Francisco, a young church-going woman admitted that she had bet $2 on Cincinnati, and after Mass on Super Bowl Sunday, she asked her priest, Msgr. Vincent Fecher, if that were wrong. He replied, “This is so important, I don’t want to decide. But I’ll tell you what: I was going back into church for something; why don’t I just ask the Lord if it was wrong?” Father Vincent returned in a few moments, and the young woman asked, “What did He say?” Father Vincent replied, “He said yes, it was wrong. You should have bet the $2 on San Francisco.” (By the way, San Francisco defeated Cincinnati, 26-21.)

As kids growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Yogi Berra and his friends had little money. Fortunately, Yogi was smart and figured out a way to get footballs to play with in the streets. St. Louis University had a football team which played its games only one mile from the kids’ neighborhood, and Yogi and his friends stood in the street outside the stadium. They formed a relay line with the kids standing about 30 feet apart, and whenever a football came flying over the stadium wall, Yogi would grab it and throw it to the next kid, who threw it to the next kid, until the football was safely in the kids’ neighborhood and no student manager had a chance of retrieving it.

Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith were very successful law enforcement officers during Prohibition. To make arrests, they frequently used disguises. Once, they and some other law enforcement officers went to a speakeasy while dressed in muddy football uniforms. They announced that they had just played the last game of a winning season, and when the bartender poured a celebratory round of drinks, they arrested him. Unfortunately, Mr. Einstein and Mr. Smith were so successful that they made other law enforcement officers look bad, and they were fired in 1925.

Late in the game, a football team got the ball while holding a slight lead. The domineering coach told his quarterback, “Run play A-1 two times, then punt — no matter what happens.” The play worked extremely well. After running it twice, the team was third-down-and-goal. Then the quarterback called for a punt, and the football was punted right out of the stadium. The coach screamed at the quarterback, “You were third-down-and-goal. What were you thinking when you called for a punt?” The quarterback replied, “I was thinking, ‘Our coach sure is dumb.’”

At a football game between Harvard and North Carolina, Harvard took the lead in the first half, but in the second half the North Carolina team dominated, rolling right over the Harvard football players. After North Carolina had won the game, a reporter asked the coach what he had said to fire up his players at halftime. The coach said, “I told them not to forget that every man on the Harvard team was a Republican.”

In 1915, Jim Thorpe played his first professional football game. His team, the Canton Bulldogs, played the Massillon Tigers, one of whose stars was Knute Rockne. Mr. Rockne tackled Mr Thorpe twice in a row, then Mr. Thorpe ran right over Mr. Rockne, knocking him out. When Mr. Rockne regained consciousness, Mr. Thorpe told him, “That’s better, Knute. These people want to see Big Jim run!”

When Elfi Schlegel was competing in gymnastics at the University of Florida, football running back Neal Anderson, who played for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, was a frequent visitor to the gymnastics practices. He had a good reason for working on his tumbling: After scoring a touchdown, he would perform a back flip in the end zone while still dressed in his football uniform.

The Kennedy family was well known for playing touch football, a game that can sometimes be hazardous. Before marrying John F. Kennedy, Jackie Bouvier played touch football with his family — and suffered a broken ankle. And when John and Jackie were finally married, the groom had scratches and bruises on his face from a touch football game he had played earlier that day.

During the 1946 game between Notre Dame and Army, Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack was intercepted three times by Army safety man Arnold Tucker. After the game, Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy asked his quarterback, “Tell me, Johnny, why did you throw so many passes to Tucker?” Mr. Lujack replied, “Coach, he was the only man open.”

In 1952, fumbles resulted in an Oklahoma loss to Notre Dame. All during during the first half, the Sooners just couldn’t hold onto the football. At halftime, the Sooners waited for the band to get off the field. An Oklahoma majorette threw a baton, and when it came, she dropped it. A fan witnessed the fumble and told Coach Bud Wilkinson, “I see you coach the band, too.”

In 1952, Notre Dame player Johnny Lattner played badly in a game against Purdue, fumbling five times. His coach, Frank Leahy, was not pleased. As punishment, he ordered that a special football — one with a handle for easy holding on to — be manufactured, and he ordered Mr. Lattner to carry it around campus.

Years ago, sportscasters Chris Schenkel, Bud Wilkerson, and O.J. Simpson were on TV commenting on the Hula Bowl, which is played in Hawaii. At a pause in the game, a TV camera showed a young lady, and Mr. Schenkel asked, “Bud, isn’t that the young lady who gave us a lei before the game?”

Gymnasts tend to be small. When Kurt Thomas was a hall monitor in school, he worked with another boy named Elvis Peacock, who became a star football player at Oklahoma. Mr. Thomas remembers, “If I asked a guy for his pass when Peacock wasn’t around, it was like I wasn’t even there.”

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David Bruce: Winter Olympics Anecdotes

Figure skater Carol Heiss won five gold medals at the World Championships, a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics, and a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics. Oddly, only one of those medals means anything to many people. One day, at the Winterhurst Figure Skating Club in Lakewood, Ohio, a woman came in who didn’t know Ms. Heiss. They got to talking, and the woman discovered that Ms. Heiss had won the silver medal at the 1956 Olympics. The woman said, “Oh, that’s too bad … what did you go on to do after that?” Ms. Heiss said that she had continued to compete and had won Olympic gold in 1960. Hearing that, the woman was suddenly impressed and wanted Ms. Heiss’ autograph. Ms. Heiss gave her the autograph, but she also told her, “I’m very proud of my silver medal in 1956. First time I made the Olympic team and I’m on the podium.”

When Sarah Hughes won the gold medal in ladies’ figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics, she received a few perks. Another gold medalist in ladies’ figure skating, Dorothy Hamill, asked Sarah to sign a copy of Time magazine—the one with Sarah’s photograph on the cover. (Time was prescient when it put Sarah’s photograph on its pre-Olympics issue—Sarah was a definite underdog in the competition.) She signed it, “Dorothy, thank you for all the inspiration. Love, Sarah.” The State of New York also gave her license plates that read “TRPL TRPL” to honor her two record-breaking triple-triple combinations in the Olympics long program—even though 16-year-old Sarah had not yet learned how to drive.

The King and Queen of Sweden attended the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. Trying to get into an ice hockey game featuring the Swedish team, they were stopped by the ticket taker because their tickets were for another game. The King said that the correct tickets were in his car and he asked to be allowed in without the correct tickets: “Could you make an exception for us, please? You see, I’m the King of Sweden.” The ticket taker responded, “Sure you are, and I suppose this is the Queen.” The King and Queen of Sweden went back to their car to get the correct tickets, only to see it being towed away.

When Sarah Hughes won the gold medal in ladies’ figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics, she accomplished a major upset. She skated early in the long program, and she skated excellently. The crowd roared, and her coach, Robin Wagner, wanted her to wait a few extra moments before leaving the ice. She told Sarah, “Turn around. Close your eyes. Soak it in.” After winning the gold medal, Sarah slept with it, and when she met her family next, although she had not seen them for a while, they asked, “Where’s the medal? Where’s the medal?” She joked, “Hey, guys, what about me?”

At the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville, France, figure skater Elvis Stojko finished seventh. When he returned home, his aunt and uncle gave him a gift: a round medallion they had specially made for him. On one side of the medallion appears an engraving of the Olympic rings and the words, “Sixteenth Olympic Winter Games.” On the other side of the medallion appear the words, “Congratulation, Elvis, You’re Number One.” Mr. Stojko has worn that medallion at every competition he has appeared in since it was given to him.

As a little girl, figure skater Sasha Cohen sometimes watched a videotape of Kristi Yamaguchi winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics; however, she was so young that she didn’t realize that she was watching a tape. She thought that she was seeing a new competition each time, and she was impressed that Ms. Yamaguchi kept winning gold medal after gold medal. Even as a little girl, Sasha had won a few medals at kids’ competitions. These were displayed on her bedroom wall, and she thought that Ms. Yamaguchi’s wall had to be covered with gold medals.

The night before playing in the championship game as a goaltender on the United States women’s hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games, Sarah Tueting found it difficult to get to sleep. Seeing a bowl of apples in her room, she picked up an apple and hurled it at the middle of a wall, creating a big splat! She kept on hurling apples until she ran out, although her roommate told her, “Get away from me!” The apple-throwing incident must have had a therapeutic effect—she and her team won the championship game and the gold medal the following day.

Watching TV with someone who has a lesbian sensibility can be interesting. Lesbian comedian Kate Clinton and her significant other were watching the Salt Lake Winter Olympics when the women’s luge event came on the screen. Her significant other said, “The luge is a very gay event.” Almost immediately, as they watched the luge sled hurtling down a chute, the TV announcer said, “She’s controlling the whole thing with her inner thighs.”

At the 1992 Olympic Games in Calgary, which is located in western Canada, several members of speed skater Bonnie Blair’s family were in attendance to show support. One sign hanging in the audience section said, “Dear Aunt Bonnie, Skate Fast. Love, Brittany.” Brittany was Ms. Blair’s niece and perhaps her tiniest fan—she was only four-and-a-half-months’ old. The sign must have helped—Aunt Bonnie won two gold medals.

During autumn of 1975, David Leonardi took several photographs of figure skater Dorothy Hamill outside. During the photo session, a single leaf fell on top of Ms. Hamill’s head. When Mr. Leonardi snapped her photograph, the leaf looked exactly like a small crown. The leaf was prophetic—Ms. Hamill became queen of the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, when she won the gold medal in women’s figure skating.

After Dorothy Hamill won the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the 1976 Olympic Games, she slept with it under her pillow. The next day, someone asked where she was keeping it. She pulled it from out of her blouse and said, “Right here.”

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