The Boston Red Sox and the 10 Most Overlooked Events in Sports History
In the last 30 years, we have been inundated with more media than had ever existed.
In sports, we have seen the rise of ESPN and every other sports network that has followed. Included in that are networks specifically devoted to just about every sport.
And of course, we can't forget about the Internet.
Through all of these, we consistently see great moments time and time again. Even moments that took place in the early days of television.
Despite that, we still have a selective memory. Often times, we will remember one series, one game or even one play of a championship season.
Often times, we remember a great moment of a team or player that wasn't even a part of a championship season.
Sometimes it's a great call from a great announcer that makes us do this. Other times, the forgotten event was just not as dramatic, even if it was no less significant. Lastly, our own biases can make us remember or forget something more easily.
The goal here is not to diminish the moments that we do remember, although it will look that way sometimes. My goal is simply to look at the moments that have been forgotten.
10. 1951 World Series
Due to the drama of the pennant race between the Giants and Dodgers, this World Series has become forgotten over the years. That is unfortunate, because an awful lot happened during it.
First, it was the last time that the Giants and Yankees would play a World Series while both teams were in New York. There was a Subway Series in 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956, but those were all between the Yankees and Dodgers.
Second, it was the first World Series for both Willie Mays of the Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees. Both were rookies in that season and along with Duke Snider of the Dodgers, the three of them would form the immortal trio of centerfielders that New York would see in the 1950s known simply as Willie, Mickey and the Duke.
Third, it was in the second game of this series where Mantle blew out his knee. He stutter-stepped to avoid a collision with Joe DiMaggio. In doing so, he stepped on a drain cover and fell to the ground as if he had been shot. While Mantle would go on to be one of the best players of all time, he was plagued by knee injuries his entire career.
Lastly, the six games of the World Series were the last six games in the career of DiMaggio, who retired after the season was over. DiMaggio, Mantle and Mays were three of seven future Hall of Fame players to play in the 1951 World Series.
9. 1981 NFC Championship Game: The Final Minute
Common perception is that Dwight Clark making "The Catch" is when the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s began. Truthfully, they still had to win the Super Bowl, but the true changing of the guard did come against Dallas.
While "The Catch" and the ensuing extra point put the 49ers ahead in the game, they had to wait 51 more seconds before the NFC crown was officially theirs.
After the kickoff, the Cowboys had 47 seconds and two timeouts remaining, and they needed only a field goal to win.
The first play of the ensuing drive was a long completion from Danny White to Drew Pearson that put the Cowboys into 49ers territory.
If Pearson was wearing a tearaway jersey, he likely would have scored and we would have at least put the Cowboys into field-goal range. As it was, they had 38 seconds and one timeout, still needing at least a first down to find field-goal range.
The next play, Lawrence Pillers sacked White, causing a fumble that was recovered by the 49ers' Jim Stuckey and the 49ers and their fans let out a collective exhale.
The 49ers went on to defeat the Bengals in the Super Bowl, their first of five wins in a 13-year span.
It's impossible to say what would have happened had Dallas won. Fortunately for the 49ers and their fans, they never had to make such a prediction.
8. Super Bowl XXV: The Bills' Final Drive
Unlike other entries on this list, Scott Norwood does have one thing working against him. If he had made the field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV, the Bills would have won the game, no questions asked.
But even in the NFL, a 47-yard kick is far from a guarantee. This is especially true when the kick in question is on grass and the kicker kicking it is used to kicking on turf.
But the Bills offense had two current Hall of Fame players in Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and another likely Hall of Fame player in wide receiver Andre Reed.
They were also known for their fast-paced, no-huddle offense, which is why it was puzzling to see them have only a little bit of urgency when driving down the field.
The Bills knew that while Norwood was a good kicker, their best chance at winning came if they could get him a field goal of close to 40 yards—or shorter, of course. They didn't display enough urgency to get that close.
They even had a chance to gain yards before spiking the ball to stop the clock. While it would have been a gamble because they had no timeouts remaining, the Bills had time to run a quick sideline pass that would have stopped the clock and given Norwood a more comfortable kick.
The rest of the Bills share the blame with Norwood for this loss. To their credit, his teammates were quick to come to Norwood's defense, as they pointed out areas where they let the team down.
Still, more than 20 years later, we still see this highlight every year as the Super Bowl is approaching.
While it's true that the Bills would have won this Super Bowl had Norwood made his kick, a game never comes down to one play.
7. 1975 World Series: Game 7
I do not dislike Carlton Fisk or the Boston Red Sox. In a bubble, the sixth game of the 1975 World Series was perhaps the best baseball game ever played.
We just don't live in a bubble.
The image is timeless. Fisk jumping up and down, trying to will the ball fair. Then, the ball hit off of the left-field foul pole (that now bears his name) and the Red Sox won Game 6. What can be wrong with that?
That home run accomplished one thing: It forced a Game 7. In that game, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead before the Reds came back and won the game, and the series.
So a moment that has been seen over and over again for more than 30 years and immortalized in movies didn't lead to anything but more heartbreak? No, it didn't. So, why is it still so remembered?
The less cynical person would say that the 1975 World Series was one of the first to include night games. Therefore, the game is remembered fondly because of what it led to.
The more realistic person could answer that question in three words: East Coast bias.
For the sake of argument, let's reverse the history of that series. Instead of the Reds leading 3-2 in Game 6, let's say it was the Red Sox.
Instead of that game being played at the historic Fenway Park in Boston, let's have it be played at the cookie-cutter Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
With that reversed, Johnny Bench would have hit the series tying home run for the Reds instead of Carlton Fisk for the Red Sox.
Then, of course, Boston would have come from behind to win Game 7 and the series
Something makes me doubt that the game-winning home run of Game 6 would be what we would remember.
Honestly, when the Red Sox won not one but two World Series in the 21st century, I thought that this moment would fade a little bit, but it hasn't.
It's still in commercials and it's still played out.
6. Super Bowl II
The 1967 NFL championship game will forever be known as The Ice Bowl.
The tundra at Lambeau Field was never more frozen than it was when the Cowboys and Packers laced their boots up on New Year's Eve in 1967.
The images of the fans in Green Bay sitting in the freezing-cold bleachers are classic. So is the image of Packers quarterback Bart Starr sneaking into the end zone for the winning touchdown with only a few seconds on the clock.
With that win, the Packers were the champions of the NFL. But they still had one game to win. They had to beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl, although the game did not have that title then.
This was not a small accomplishment for the Packers. In 1967, the perception was still that the AFL was a vastly inferior league. As was the case the year before against the Chiefs, Vince Lombardi did not want his team to lose to any AFL team.
Fortunately for Lombardi, the Packers won relatively easily, 33-14. The AFL's big upset would not come for another year.
The game that would come to be known as Super Bowl II was the last game that Lombardi would ever coach for the Packers.
It's ironic that the most famous game that Lombardi coached for the Packers was the Ice Bowl, played in frigid Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yet, the final image of Lombardi as the Packers coach was him being carried off of the field on a warm night in Miami, Florida.
5. 1986 World Series: Anything Not Involving Bill Buckner
Despite popular belief, Bill Buckner letting ground ball go between his legs was only a small reason that the Red Sox did not win the 1986 World Series.
Boston entered the bottom of the 10th inning up by two runs. That lead was already gone by the time that Mookie Wilson hit the "little roller up along first."
Bob Stanley's wild pitch a few pitches earlier scored Kevin Mitchell and tied the game. After that, Stanley fell apart.
First, he failed to look at second base. If he did look back, he would have seen that Ray Knight was way off of the bag and could have been easily picked off.
Then, on the Buckner play itself, Stanley failed to cover first base. That was a slow roller and was well behind the bag. At that point of his career, Buckner was far from a fast runner and Wilson was.
With nobody covering first base, he had to find a way to field the ball and get to first base. He pulled up, the ball went through his legs, and the Mets won Game 6.
The Mets won Game 6 but they did not win the series on that play. In Game 7, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Mets tied the game in the sixth, scored three more in the seventh and won the game 8-5. The series ended then—not on Bill Buckner's error.
But even before the sixth game, the Red Sox blew a golden opportunity to win the series. They won the first two games of the series in New York. In doing that, all that they had to do was win two of three games in Boston and the series would have belonged to them.
They lost Games 3 and 4 and lost the home-field advantage that they had earned in the first two games in New York.
It was the Red Sox, not just Buckner, that lost the 1986 World Series.
4. 2003 National League Championship Series: Anything Not Involving Steve Bartman
Chicago may be one of the best sports towns in the country, but their treatment of Steve Bartman has been unforgivable.
I am not crazy about the way that Bill Buckner has been treated and perceived since 1986, but at least he was a player; Bartman is just a fan.
Yet, to hear a lot of Cubs fans talk, he is the primary reason that they didn't get to the World Series in 2003.
It had nothing to do with Dusty Baker leaving Mark Prior in the game way too long, which was evident both before and after the play.
They didn't lose because Alex Gonzalez dropped a ground ball. In doing so, he failed to record even one out in what could have been an inning-ending double play that would have given the Cubs a 3-1 lead going into the last inning.
And keep in mind that that was only Game 6. The Cubs certainly didn't lose because they blew a Game 7 lead. No, all of those are irrelevant, right? Wrong!
Bartman was not the only fan trying to catch that ball; virtually everyone around him was trying to do the same thing.
Also, the ball was clearly over the fence. In an ideal world, fans would leave any ball that close to the field of play alone, but once it crosses the plane, they technically have a right to it.
Lastly, even if there was no interference, it was far from a guarantee that Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou would have caught the ball. Especially at that point of his career, Alou was far from a great outfielder.
Still, Bartman was the one that endured the fans throwing garbage at him. Bartman endured death threats. It was Bartman and his family that had to change their phone numbers.
Chicago has some of the best sports fans in the country, but this was not their finest hour.
3. 1992 NCAA Basketball Tournament: The Final Four
We all remember the Elite Eight's game between Duke and Kentucky. If we don't remember the full game, we certainly remember Christian Laettner's winning shot.
In reality, we should remember this game. It may have been the best basketball game ever played. Plus, Duke and Kentucky are two of the most tradition-filled programs in college basketball history.
Nobody needs to apologize for thinking of this game first when they think of Duke's 1992 championship run.
But the Blue Devils still had not one, but two more games to win.
The first was an 81-78 win against Indiana in the national semifinal. In that game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski beat his mentor, coach Bobby Knight.
The final game was a star-studded showdown against the "Fab Five" of Michigan. After a tough first half, Duke beat the Wolverines easily, winning 71-51. In doing so, they won their second consecutive national championship.
While ESPN's recent Fab Five documentary shed some light on the Duke vs. Michigan rivalry, their infamous moment came in the following year's national championship game.
Duke's early 1990s dynasty was not remembered for the final two games of the 1992 championship run. We remember the 1991 national semifinal, when Duke beat UNLV, the undefeated defending champions that had soundly defeated them in the previous year's final.
From 1992, we remember the game against Kentucky. Yes, that game can be remembered in any number of ways depending on which team you rooted for, but it was one of the more memorable sporting events of all time.
2. 1980 Winter Olympics: USA Hockey vs. Finland
The 1980s hockey game between the USA and USSR is maybe the most historic sporting event of all time.
From a political perspective, The Cold War was at an all-time high. Any sort of meeting between people from the two countries was viewed with a microscope.
From a hockey perspective, the Soviets had one of the best hockey teams ever assembled. The Americans had a few players who would go on to have good professional careers, but they were not seen as being on the same level as the Soviet team.
On February 22, 1980, they were good enough, as they pulled off the Miracle on Ice. There was only one problem with it: The miracle didn't win anything for the American team.
The medal round in 1980 was not structured the same way as it is today. While the Americans now controlled their own destiny to win a gold medal, they still had to play Finland. A loss to Finland could have kept the Americans from winning any medal.
After beating the mighty Soviets, the Fins wouldn't be any problem, right? Well, not exactly. The Soviets were the best team in the world and hands down the pre-Olympic favorite, but Finland had a very good team that was seen as far superior to the Americans in those same pre-Olympic discussions.
The Americans didn't make it easy for themselves, as they trailed 2-1 after two periods. Eventually, they would storm back to score three goals in the final period. Then, the miracle was complete.
1. 2004 World Series
I did make Red Sox fans relive a few of their worst memories earlier in the list, so it's only fair that I finish the list with one of their fondest.
The 2004 American League Championship Series is what gets remembered. We remember the Yankees taking a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead.
We remember Boston coming back in Games 4 and 5 to win two of the longest games ever played. We remember Alex Rodriguez being called out for slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's hand in Game 6.
Lastly, we all remember the Game 7 blowout of the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.
We remember all of these because the series was so historic. No team had ever overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a baseball series. The last team anyone would expect to do that was the Red Sox, certainly when they were playing the Yankees.
Because of the history of that series and that rivalry, people outside of Boston and St. Louis tend to forget the World Series.
As sweet as it was, The Curse of the Bambino was not ended when the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Getting to the World Series was not a real problem for the Red Sox. The problem was that they couldn't win a World Series.
Standing in their way in 2004 was the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that had beaten the Red Sox in the World Series in both 1946 and 1967.
While the teams were obviously significantly different, the 2004 Cardinals were not pushovers. With 105 regular-season wins and an emotional league championship series win of their own, they were the favorites coming into the World Series.
The Cards had strong pitchers and a great offense, led by Albert Pujols.
Not only did the Cardinals not win the World Series, they were swept by Boston. More than that, they never held a lead in the series. The Curse of the Bambino was actually broken fairly easily.