Over the weekend, yours truly had an opportunity to catch on of his favorite, albeit more than a bit cheesy, movies — “The Final Countdown” — which starred Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross, James Farentino and Charles Durning.
Having always been hooked on anything with the time-travel aspect to it, the tagline of the 1980 film more than reeled me in:
“On Dec. 7, 1980, the nuclear carrier USS Nimitz disappeared in the Pacific... and reappeared Dec. 7, 1941... the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.”
Seeing the flick immediately threw me into the wayback machine, which led me to this thought:
If I could go back in time and right a single sports-related “wrong,” what would it be?
“Wrong” meaning, of course the team I wanted to prevail did not emerge victorious.
With that in mind, I came up with a list, and this involves you, Loyal Readers. I want to hear from you in regards to what your “wrongs” would be, regardless of level.
They could be your favorite professional team getting the shaft from officials or umpires, or a college squad not taking care of business, or your high school alma mater losing a heartbreaking contest or even something from back in the days of being on the sandlot.
With that in mind, here are my nominees:
A bad break
I’m 10 years old, living in Middeltown, Pa. and playing for manager Tom Stipe’s Sureheat Fuels in the spring of 1974.
We reach the major division championship series, thanks mostly to the lightning-bolt right arm of speedball artist Melvin Livering.
Just before the best-of-three championship series — played under the lights, by the way — Melvin breaks his throwing arm while messing around doing something in his backyard.
With his broken arm went a bunch of broken hearts... including mine.
We lost the title series in two games.
In the Miracle of Richfield season of 1975-76, the Cavaliers were one of the best teams in the NBA.
In fact, entering the playoffs, having won the Central Division championship for the first time in franchise history with a 49-33 record, coach Bill Fitch’s squad, which boasted seven guys who averaged double-figures in scoring an Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond off the bench as a defensive stopped and emotional leader, seemed primed for a lengthy playoff run.
Of course, the seven-game Tong War with the Washington Bullets, who featured the triumvirate of Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Phil Chenier, will never be forgotten by anyone old enough — and fortunate enough — to experience it. (A side note — my copy of the album, “The Miracle of Richfield, the Cavalier happening,” autographed by Joe Tait is one of my most prized possessions).
That thrilling victory set the stage for a matchup against the storied Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the final practice session before that clash against Boston, which featured the likes of John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, JoJo White, Paul Silas, Don Nelson and Charlie Scott, Jim Chones broke his foot.
Now, today’s generation knows Chones for his broadcasting work. However, nearly four decades ago, the 6-foot-11 center was the Cavaliers’ starting center and leading scorer.
Despite a courageous performance by the Cavaliers, who were forced to put the veteran Thurmond into the starting lineup, Boston prevailed in a 6-game slugfest... and went on to defeat the Phoenix Suns in the Finals to win the title.
Kicked in the gut
On Sept. 24, 1977, national powers Oklahoma and Ohio State, led by Hall of Famers Barry Switzer and Woody Hayes, respectively, squared off in a Clash of the Titans at Ohio Stadium.
The Sooners stormed to a 20-point lead, only to see the Buckeyes get off the canvas and rally for a 28-26 lead.
Yours truly was a 13-year-old, working dutifully at his first job, cleaning up at Knight’s Meats in Jefferson (in the building Dr. Wade’s office is now located), as me and my boss, the late Jack Knight (a truly wonderful guy) listened through the crackle of AM radio, living and dying with every twist and turn as any true-blue Buckeye fan would.
With that, we’ll let John Underwood of Sports Illustrated take over:
On the Oklahoma sideline Barry Switzer is laughing. Why is Barry Switzer laughing? With six seconds to play. Switzer’s team is losing to Ohio State 28-26. The game is in Columbus. Ohio, where, as one Oklahoma coach observed respectfully, even the stadium looks like Woody Hayes — wide and old and menacing. The 88,119 spectators, mostly Ohio State fans, are invoking Woody’s wrath on the Sooners, on whom at this desperate moment the sky appears to be falling as well. That sky is bloated with rain and gray as wet aluminum. Switzer’s matted blond hair and laughing face stand out.
So, on the field, does the lank and limby and somewhat incongruous figure of the Oklahoma placekicker, standing apart from the huddled Sooners at about the Ohio State 35. The kicker is a 21-year-old with a Smiling Jack mustache. His name is Uwe von Schamann but his teammates call him “Von Foot.”
As the last chance the Sooners have, Von Foot is being encouraged by the Buckeye fans to grab his own throat. “Block that kick! Block that kick!” they scream. Ohio State has called a just-before-the-kick time out in order to get this encouragement going and to give Von Foot additional time to think about the enormity of his task. Von Foot is not choking, however. In mock orchestration, he is leading the Ohio State cheer, his arms upraised and his forefingers flourishing.
And Switzer, laughing out loud in a giddy release of tension, says to his assistants on the Oklahoma sideline, “What the hell are we doing in this profession?”
The record will show that Uwe (pronounced YOO-va) Von Foot von Schamann then soccered a 41-yard field goal through that immense volume of low atmosphere and high pressure.
The record will not show that it was a statement made as emphatically as a cop ringing a doorbell, a booming, authoritative kick, high and far and dead-center true, winning the game for Oklahoma with three seconds to spare.
Switzer kissed Von Foot when he came off the field.
Growing up a Browns fan, the Clevelanders’ inability to win a single game at Three Rivers Stadium stuck in the craw of me and all my buddies.
However, on Sunday, Sept. 24, 1978, that torment came to an end... or it should have, at least.
Heading into overtime tied, 9-9, Pittsburgh won the toss and elected to receive.
Don Cockroft’s kick was fielded by Steelers rookie Larry Anderson, who proceeded to fumble the football and the Browns recovered, instantly in field-goal range.
The Jinx was kaput, right?
Of course not. Somehow, the buffoons in striped shirts, despite the fact television replays showed conclusively that not only did Anderson indeed fumble but also that the Browns had recovered, ruled the play had been whistled dead.
Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw’s 31-yard pass to tight end Bennie Cunningham on a double-reverse in overtime gave the Steelers an undeserved 15-9 victory, their ninth in a row in Three Rivers.
The Browns would lose seven more games in a row at Three Rivers before Bernie Kosar led them to a 27-24 victory there on Oct. 5, 1986.
Less than three years later, the Browns were in the playoffs, coach Sam Rutigliano’s Kardiac Kids sending Cleveland to the postseason for the first time since a loss to the undefeated and eventual Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins in 1972.
With NFL Most Valuable Player Brian Sipe at the controls of the Browns’ high-powered offense, all seemed right in the world as Cleveland prepared to host AFC wildcard Oakland in a divisional playoff game on Jan. 4, 1981 at Cleveland Stadium.
Of course, it wasn’t to be as Mother Nature’s fury set the gametime temperature at minus-4, neutralizing not only Sipe, but the aforementioned Cockroft’s ability to kick and, just as important, backup quarterback Paul McDonald’s ability to hold on placekicks.
Poised on the doorstep of victory and advancing to the AFC Championship Game against the Chargers in sunny San Diego, Sipe’s ill-fated pass was picked off in the end zone by Mike Davis, preserving Oakland’s 14-12 triumph.
Red Right 88...
Just more than 6 years later, the Browns had reached the AFC title game, in fact, hosting it, with John Elway and the Denver Broncos coming to Cleveland Stadium on Jan. 11, 1987.
Thanks to Kosar’s 48-yard scoring strike to Brian Brennan, then Denver muffing and having to fall on the ensuing kickoff inside it’s own 2, the Browns seemed destined for the Super Bowl in Pasadena, holding a 20-13 lead with 5:32 to play.
No more details need provided.
Foiled by fumble
A year and 6 days later, the Browns and Broncos squared off in another AFC Championship Game, this one at Mile High Stadium on Jan. 17, 1987.
Trailing, 21-3, Kosar led the Browns back with four touchdowns in the second half and tied the game at 31-31. After Elway hit Sammy Winder with a 20-yard touchdown toss to give Denver a 38-31 lead with 6 minutes to go, Kosar, along with his sidekick, Earnest Byner, led Cleveland back down the field.
At the Denver 8 with 1:12 left to play, another overtime thriller seemed inevitable.
Byner off left tackle, Browns wideout Webster Slaughter doesn’t complete his runoff of Broncos cornerback Jeremiah Castille to the flag, instead turning to watch the play... Castille, seeing that, hits Byner as he powers toward the end zone, forcing The Fumble and recovering it, cementing what would end up a 38-33 Denver win.
Dive in ’95
The 1995 World Series — umpires’ strike zone for the Atlanta Braves wider than Eric Gregg’s backside was what is took to neutralize baseball's best offense since the '61 Yankees.
Two years later...
The 1997 World Series, the Indians return to the Fall Classic to take on the rent-a-player Florida Marlins.
Jose &^*())&()(* Mesa!
’nuff said, redux.
There are others, of course, most notably, Michael Jordan and “The Shot” in the 1989 NBA playoffs in Game 5 of a first-round series at The Coliseum in Richfield.
In truth, though, coach Lenny Wilkens’ Cavaliers were living on borrowed time when Jordan hit The Shot over a flailing Craig Ehlo, despite being the best team in the league until a dirty elbow to the temple of Cavaliers point guard Mark Price by Detroit’s Rick Mahorn.
But now, Loyal Readers, it’s your turn.
Hit me with what sports-related “wrong” you would choose to correct if you were able to hop in the wayback machine and I’ll put them together for a piece to appear in this space down the line... forward in time, if you will.
Pressed to name one “wrong,” I would choose the first one listed above.
Heartbreak at age 10 is never forgotten, after all.