Sports Now

Sports news from Los Angeles and beyond

Category: Sports Legends Revealed

You can thank the Olympics for your desktop printer

OLYMPIC URBAN LEGEND: The Olympics led to a watch company becoming one of the largest printer manufacturers in the world.

FabforumThe development of new technologies has had a dramatic effect on the world of sports over the years. Take the development of video technology for television broadcasts of sports games. The ability to watch a play again instantly has come to affect pretty much every major U.S. sport. While some pro leagues have been slow to accept it, the use of instant replay to decide close plays is now a part of most U.S. sports and is only becoming more important as the years go by. While that is an example of a technology that was developed independent of sports being adapted to the world of sports, there are other technological advancements that were examples of athletes having a need that someone developed a technology to address.

For instance, a surgeon inventing a procedure where he removes a tendon from one part of a pitcher's body and uses it to replace a damaged one in a pitcher's elbow (the so-called "Tommy John Surgery") would have sounded like science fiction in the early days of baseball, but the procedure has saved countless careers that otherwise would have been lost. Current pitchers as varied as John Axford, A.J. Burnett, Shawn Marcum, Stephen Strasburg, Brian Wilson and C.J. Wilson all would likely not be major leaguers now if it were not for the procedure.

The connection between the sports need and the development of Tommy John Surgery is a bit obvious. Much less obvious, though, is the fact that the world of sports also led to the creation of the modern-day desktop printer.

Read on to learn how sports turned a watch company into one of the leading manufacturers of desktop printers in the world.

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Did a Harvard coach once strangle a bulldog to motivate his team to beat Yale?

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FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The coach of Harvard once strangled a live bulldog to death to motivate his team to defeat the Yale Bulldogs.

Percy Haughton was, without a doubt, the most successful football coach in the history of Harvard Crimson football. One of the first professional head coaches (initially the job was either done by seniors or volunteers), Haughton (a former Harvard football player himself) led the team to a 72-7 record (with 5 ties) in his nine seasons as head coach of the Crimson. The team also claimed three national championships during his tenure.

A major factor by Harvard (and perhaps more importantly, the boosters of the team) in deciding to bring in Haughton was Harvard's record against Yale in the end of the year game (which eventually became referred to as simply "The Game") the two rival schools had played since 1875 (with some gaps, like when The Game has become so violent that it was canceled for two years. Check out this old Football Urban Legend for a similar situation in the Army-Navy game of the same era).

In the 28 games that they had played prior to the 1908 season, Yale had won 21 of them, including the last six (all shutouts!). So Haughton had a strong desire to defeat the Yale Bulldogs in the 1908 match, not just because of the pressure from his new position but because he, himself (as a Harvard alum) hated the Elis as much as anyone. The legend goes that Haughton actually strangled a live bulldog before the game in front of his players to motivate them to victory. They did, in fact, win the game 4-0 (field goals counted for 4 points back then) and the Harvard/Yale rivalry would no longer be a one-sided one from then on (they have basically split the series since 1908). It is one of the most famous pieces of motivation in college football history (right up there with "Win one for the Gipper!"). But is it true?

Let's find out!

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Did Topps turn down a deal on Maury Wills because he was such a bad prospect?

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BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Maury Wills was such a longshot to make it in the Major Leagues that Topps turned down the opportunity to sign him to a $5 baseball card contract.

Maury Wills is a true Los Angeles Dodgers legend. The Dodgers won their first championship in Los Angeles in Wills' first season and went on to win two more titles during his first tenure with the team (1959-1966), with Wills being the team captain from 1963-1966. Wills made the All Star Game in five separate seasons and received the very first All Star Game Most Valuable Player Award ever in 1962! That same season, Wills beat out Willie Mays to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. In 1962, Wills also won his second Gold Glove at shortstop and set a new Modern Era (post-1900) Major League record for the most stolen bases in a single season with 104 (the first player ever to steal over 100 bases in the Modern Era). Wills' revival of the stolen base is probably his greatest legacy. Before he stole 50 bases in 1960, no National Leaguer had stolen 50 bases since 1923! Players like Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman were all inspired by Wills. However, while Wills was setting records and showing up on Most Valuable Player ballots there was one place he was conspicuously absent - packs of Topps baseball cards! Wills did not have a Topps baseball card until 1967, nearly a decade into his Major League career! For a card company that prided itself on having basically every Major Leaguer in the game, Wills was a notable exception. What makes it even more notable is why Topps did not have a Maury Wills card. You see, Topps did not feel Wills was worth paying the $5 it would have taken to sign to a baseball card contract!

Read on to see how such a strange occurrence could have taken place!

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St. Louis Cardinals: Did Dizzy Dean come in from the radio booth to pitch a game for them?

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: A team's radio announcer came in to pitch the final game of the team's season.

FabforumCriticism of professional athletes by announcers put an interesting spin on a traditional retort that people being criticized often use, which is the classic "could you do any better?" In the case of sports announcers, though, the one doing the criticism often was once a professional athlete, and often legitimately could have done better when they were younger! Therefore, quite often the playing career of the media member is put on trial when they criticize current players. In October 2010, when Brandon Marshall of the Miami Dolphins was criticized by NFL Network analysts Sterling Sharpe, Mike Mayock and Solomon Wilcots (all former NFL players) over his conditioning, Marshall retorted, "But again, those guys never coached, and I don't honestly think that those guys were elite players, including Sterling Sharpe. I know he's done some good things, but from my understanding, he's not a Hall of Fame player." When Sharpe was Marshall's age, he actually had a better resume (by 26, they were both named to two Pro Bowls, but Sharpe also was a first team All-Pro while Marshall was "just" a second teamer), but imagine if the 45-year-old Sharpe could actually back up his criticisms of the 26-year-old Marshall on the field? That's just what St. Louis Cardinal legend Dizzy Dean did on the last day of the 1947 season when he came out of retirement for one last game just to prove a point.

Read on to see what happened!

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Does the official NFL football have a name?

FabforumFOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The NFL's official football has a name.

Giving names to inanimate objects is a tradition that has been going on for centuries, from the christening of vessels on their way to sea to the guy down the street who calls his old beat-up Chevy "Betsy" (the number one name car owners give their cars). This tradition has extended to baseball, as well.

 From Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose famous bat "Black Betsy" (man, people sure love to name their stuff "Betsy," don't they?) sold for nearly $600,000 at an auction a decade ago to current Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, who names his bats after fictional swords (like Hrunting, the famous sword used in the epic poem "Beowulf"), giving nicknames to your bats is not particularly unusual.

However, the National Football League (NFL) has gone one step further with its official game ball - it has an actual official name!

What is it? Read on to find out!

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Moneyball: Did the Yankees once sign a player without ever seeing him play?

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BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Yankees signed a player sight unseen based solely on his statistics in an independent league.

One of the main (if not the main) conflicts in Michael Lewis' book Moneyball and the recent film of the same name is between "traditional" scouting (people who judge players by watching them play in person) versus statistical scouting (making decisions about players based on their statistical achievements). In the film, traditional scouting is portrayed as almost an archaic way of doing business but in reality, there is not a single Major League Baseball team today that does not place a great deal of emphasis on traditional scouting, including the Oakland Athletics. The differences between the various teams is how much emphasis they each give to statistical scouting in augmenting traditional scouting, not replacing it. While nowadays there is a general acceptance that the two modes of thinking are complimentary and not adversarial, it admittedly seemed pretty darn adversarial during those first few years after Moneyball came out. And in 2007, a 26-year-old relief pitcher became a symbol of the divide between traditional scouting and statistical scouting when the story came out that the Yankees signed Edwar Ramírez without seeing him in person.

But was that actually what happened? Read on to find out!

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Did a soccer team sign a player because of a hoax played on the club's manager?

Fabforum SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A Senegalese player was signed by a British Premier League team through a hoax played on the club's manager.

Association football history is littered with players who were given a chance to play in the Premier League in England (the top football league in the country) or in Serie A in Italy (the Italian equivalent to the Premier League) and not only failed, but flamed out quickly and spectacularly. There have been many legends told about these flame-outs. Heck, in a previous Sports Urban Legend installment, I examined the legend of Luther Blissett and how exactly he came to be signed by AC Milan for a disastrous season in Serie A (you can read that story here). One of the craziest stories, though, involves a Senegalese football player named Ali Dia who actually managed to con himself on to a British Premier League team (and even saw an action in a Premier League game!)!

Read on to see how he managed to pull it off...

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Did Roberto De Vicenzo lose The Masters because of an error on his scorecard?

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GOLF URBAN LEGEND: A golfer lost the Masters because of an error on his scorecard.

Roberto De Vicenzo celebrated his 45th birthday on April 14th, 1968, which also happened to be the final day of The Masters Tournament. On the first hole of the day, De Vicenzo sank a 130 foot approach shot for an eagle. As he celebrated, the packed crowd serenaded him with "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Dear Roberto, Happy Birthday to you." It seemed like a dream come true for De Vicenzo, the Argentinean one-time caddy who had just won his first major tournament (the British Open) the previous year. He was aiming to be the oldest man to ever wear the famous Augusta National green jacket that is given to Master's winners (not only would he be the oldest man to win it, but it would not even be close - the oldest winner at the time was 41-year-old Sam Snead in 1954, in Snead's final Masters victory) and after entering the day two strokes behind the leader, his impressive seven under par performance on that final day looked like it had secured him a spot in a one-day playoff to be played the next day. However, De Vicenzo's dream birthday quickly turned nightmarish. And it all came down to a tiny little erroneous four.

Read on to learn the whole sad story!

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Did the New York Giants originate the Gatorade shower?

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The New York Giants originated the "Gatorade shower."

Fabforum During the 1986 National Football League (NFL) season, the New York Giants dominated the league as a whole. They went 14-2 and crushed their three playoff opponents on their way to a Super Bowl victory in January 1987 (their smallest margin of victory in the playoffs was seventeen points). After every one of the Giants' seventeen victories, the Giants would pour a bucket or cooler of Gatorade on head coach Bill Parcells. This "Gatorade shower" (or "Gatorade dunk" or "Gatorade bath," the act has been given a lot of different names over the years) became a national sensation in 1987, popping up from everywhere to sporting events (like the 1987 World Series) and Presidential celebrations (President Ronald Reagan was given a drawing for his 76th birthday party depicting Reagan receiving a Gatorade shower). Bill Schmidt, head of sports marketing for Gatorade, did not see the Giants do their celebration until the first round of the playoffs (where the Giants defeated the 49ers 49-3). When he did, Schmidt later recalled that he thought, "What the hell? I think I have died and gone to heaven." Gatorade naturally latched on to the celebration and marketed it heavily. It has now become a longstanding sports tradition, especially in the world of football.

But where did the tradition start? In his excellent book, First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon, Darren Rovell wrote about how the Giants first began doing the celebration in a section titled “The Inaugural Dunk.” Amazingly enough, it began as somewhat of an act of aggression! You see, in 1985 the Giants started the season 3-3. They hosted their divisional rival Washington Redskins on October 20, 1985 in a big game for both teams (the Redskins had also started the season 3-3). In the week leading up to the game, Bill Parcells gave Giants starting nose guard Jim Burt a lot of grief, telling him that Redskins offensive lineman Jeff Bostic was going to eat him up. So when the Giants won the game 17-3, Burt decided to celebrate/take his anger out on his coach by pouring the Gatorade cooler on Parcells' head. The next week, the Giants won again. This time, Burt enlisted Giants Pro Bowl linebacker Harry Carson, one of the most respected members of the team (and a favorite of Parcells) to do the dunk, figuring that if Carson did it, Parcells could not get mad. Burt did not really have to worry, as Parcells did not mind the dunks (the coach stated, “It’s fun. If you have fun, fine. It’s not all life and death”). The following season, while Burt felt that the bit was no longer original and did not want to do it anymore, Carson continued doing it after every Giants victory (Carson noted that Parcells was a superstitious man, so he would not want them to stop doing something that had “worked” before).

As a result, Carson and Parcells became the face of the dunk (Carson even ended up signing a $20,000 deal with Gatorade where they would use his image on a "How to dunk" promotional poster!). So clearly, the New York Giants, Harry Carson and Bill Parcells are what people think of when it comes to the "Gatorade dunk," and Rovell is quite correct as to the origins of how the Giants came to do the dunk. But was it actually the ORIGINATION of the Gatorade shower?

 Let's find out!

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Did Sam Rice reveal a World Series secret in a letter opened after his death?

Fabforum BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Did a Hall of Famer reveal a 50-year-old World Series secret in a letter opened after his death?

On Oct. 13, 1974, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Sam Rice passed away at the age of 84. His death came almost exactly 49 years after Game Three of the 1925 World Series (October 10, 1925). In that game, Rice made one of the most famous catches in World Series history.

It was also one of the most controversial catches. The controversy surrounded whether Rice ACTUALLY made the catch. Since the play involved Rice being out of everyone's field of vision for at least ten seconds, only Rice knew the answer for sure. Rice always actively avoided telling people the truth (not even his own wife and children), and legend had it that Rice had written a letter for the Baseball Hall of Fame containing the truth that was not to be opened until his death.

Well, two weeks after Rice died, there was no such letter.

Cliff Kachline, the official historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said "That Sam Rice letter has been a rumor for a long time, but we never had any solid evidence there was one." Was there a letter?

Read on to find out!

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Did boxer Jack Dempsey use loaded gloves when he won his first heavyweight title?

BOXING URBAN LEGEND: Jack Dempsey's gloves were "loaded" when he first won the world heavyweight championship.

Fabforum On the Fourth of July, 1919, 24-year-old William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey defeated Jess Willard and won the world heavyweight championship title. Dempsey would hold the title for the next seven years before losing it to Gene Tunney in September of 1926. Dempsey was an underdog going into the match against the champ, as the 37-year-old Willard had five inches and a good fifty pounds on Dempsey. The match clearly was not a "David versus Goliath" set-up (while an underdog, most papers gave Dempsey decent odds - the New York Times reported betting was 5-4 against Dempsey), but some members of the press still sold it as such. Therefore, there was a great deal of surprise when Dempsey not only defeated Willard, but he brutalized him, winning in three rounds as Willard's corner could not let the champ come out for the fourth round. Dempsey knocked him down seven times in the first round and after the match, the story was that Willard lost six teeth and suffered a broken jaw, as well as other fractures in his facial bones (plus some broken ribs).

Confusion over how Dempsey could cause all of those injuries soon turned to suspicion that Dempsey was cheating, using some sort of "loaded" glove, that is to say a glove that was treated with a hardening substance or, in the alternative, hiding a heavy object (like a tire iron) in his glove, to increase the force of his blows. When Dempsey's then-manager Jack "Doc" Kearns confessed that the gloves were loaded in a Sports Illustrated excerpt of Kearns' biography in 1964 (it was published posthumously, as Kearns died in 1963), the suspicions from 1919 became a hot topic and have remained a contested subject ever since. So, did Dempsey use loaded gloves to win the title?

Read on to find out!

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