Certain people or events become so iconic they carry the word “The.”
There is Willie Mays’ “The Catch,” or the football version, from Dwight Clark. There’s John Elway’s “The Drive,” or “The Play” from Cal-Stanford, which made Elway a loser in ’82. How about “The Tackle” by Kevin Jones which gave the Rams their only Super Bowl title ?
In a never-ending attempt to categorize all things and amuse myself, I will attempt to add to the list of “The’s,” in an offering I’m sure will someday be called “The Blog.”
The Bite … Mike Tyson lunching on Evander Holyfield’s ears. Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?
The Punch … and it wasn’t in boxing. Kermit Washington of the Lakers cold-cocked Rudy Tomjanovich of the Rockets in December 1977, as Tomjanovich came in to break up a fight. The punch knocked out Tomjanovich but ruined Washington.
Tomjanovich later said he thought the scoreboard fell on him, and he nearly died on the court. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “I didn’t see it, but I heard it.” Tomjanovich’s face was re-arranged and he went into intensive care. Washington was suspended an unprecedented 60 days — and was traded to the Celtics. A thoughtful, intelligent man who made a terrible mistake, Washington was labeled a thug and a symbol of everything that was wrong with the NBA. Washington’s career was never the same. He was traded several times and retired five years later. Unable to escape the stigma of The Punch, he couldn’t get a coaching job anywhere. Washington eventually remade himself by spearheading philanthropic work in Africa, and actually did hook up with the NBA again, coaxing charity money out of the league.
The Throw ( baseball ) … with all due respect to Dave Parker, Vladimir Guerrero, Roberto Clemente, and the forgotten great arm of Jesse Barfield … it happened on June 18, 2006. Jose Guillen of the Pirates uncorked a throw from the edge of the warning track in right field that nailed the Rockies’ Neifi Perez at the third… ON THE FLY. He made people forget he missed the leaping catch of a drive against the wall.
The Flip ( baseball ) … although not planned as a relay, it ended up being just that — Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, in one of the great instinct plays ever, runs in from shortstop to snag a dying throw from right field in the 2001 ALDS. The throw is in foul territory along the first base line. In one motion, he catches and flips to Jorge Posada to tag out Jeremy Giambi at the plate. No matter how many times I’ve yelled at Giambi to slide, he fails to do so in every replay.
The Scream ( rock music ) … it’s a tie between Axl Rose in “Welcome To The Jungle” and Roger Daltrey in “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.” These cannot by replicated by mere mortals, although I’m sure Johnny Knoxville has tried by applying a taser to the family jewels.
The Steal … not Rickey Henderson breaking Lou Brock’s record and declaring himsefl greatest of all time. It was pulled off by a bit player, Dave Roberts, in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox were facing elimination, down 4-3 to the Yankees in the 9th when Kevin Millar walked. Roberts pinch-ran, barely stole second, and scored the tying run on Bill Mueller’s single. The Sox won in extra innings, went on to win the LCS and World Series. It wasn’t Roberts’ greatest steal: he got $18 million out of Brian Sabean and the Giants.
The Goal ( hockey ) … there really is no other choice. Mike Eruzione has made a living in the last 30 years off firing the game-winner in the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid. By the way, if you haven’t seen “Miracle,” it’s highly recommended. One of Kurt Russell’s best performances, as coach Herb Brooks. The one word you’ll remember from this flilck: “again.”
The Push-Off ( basketball ) … Michael Jordan against Bryon Russell of the Jazz, as he sunk the championship-winning shot in the 1998 NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls. No one except Jazz fans was shocked that the referees let it go, and no one breathing air at the time was shocked Jordan made it. This might also be categorized as “The Shot.”
The Jump … quantum leaps in sports history always fascinate me. Babe Ruth. Wayne Gretzky. Wilt Chamberlain. Now I’m going to discuss a literal quantum leap.
Bob Beamon at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He was the favorite in the long jump, but his world record of 29 feet 2 1/2 inches beat the previous record by nearly 22 INCHES. Almost two feet. The previous best “leap” in the world record was an improvement of six inches. The mark stood for 23 years and is still the second longest of all time, 42 years later. The altitude and weather helped him, but it is still a singular achievement. The phrase “Beamon-esque” is now used to describe an incredible feat. He never jumped longer than 27 feet after that.
The Match ( tennis ) … gotta go with Federer-Nadal, ’08 Wimbledon Final. Epic. Federer cried afterward, perhaps subconsciously wondering if his reign was done. It wasn’t. Nadal’s knees are barking more than a Dachsund and Federer is now up to 16 Grand Slam titles, generally considered the greatest tennis player of all time.
The Error … I’m not sure what Bill Buckner did previously in life to deserve the hell he received after letting that ball go through his legs in the ’86 World Series. He shouldn’t have been in at first base in the first place. Dave Stapleton was a better defensive replacement. Buckner became a pariah in New England, which told me all I will ever need to know about douche-bag Red Sox fans. I’ll never forget Buckner in FOX Sports’ “Beyond The Glory” recounting how a reporter call his wife to ask her if Buckner had contemplated suicide.
The Movie … Highly subjective. Purists will point to “Citizen Kane” or “The Godfather.” I judge this on how many times I can watch a film, and not get tired of seeing it. Two films stand alone for me … “Goodfellas” and “To Kill A Mockingbird.” They couldn’t be more different, and in my opinion, filmmaking didn’t get any better. Toss of a coin …. “Goodfellas.”
* Dark-horse great film of all-time, perhaps the least talked-about Tarantino flick, “Jackie Brown.” ( “The AK 47, when you absolutely, positively got to kill every m—– —-er in the room. Accept no substitutes.” )
The Movie Theme … again subjectivity reins, and there is an embarrassment of riches. Again, my opinion … it boils down to three … The Wizard of Oz, Superfly, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. A more motley collection of musical styles will never be found. My winner: 2001. I watched it Saturday in surround-sound and got goose bumps once again, hear “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”
The Voice ( music ) … ahhh, now I’m really stirring the pot. Frank Sinatra was labeled “The Voice,” just as Mel Torme was labeled “The Velvet Fog.” It boils down to this — if you could rewind your life and have anyone’s singing voice, whose would it be? One name always jumps to the front of the line for me … Sam Cooke.
The Voice (speaking ) … Liev Schrieber is narrating everything from documentaries to car commercials to industrial films these days, but how can you top James Earl Jones? When he tells you, “this is CNN,” he’s both scolding you, and commanding you to acknowledge its’ greatness. When he says “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again, but baseball has marked the time,” you feel like God himself is bridging the expanse of the ages to give the Final Summary. “Ohhhh … people will come Ray … people will most definitely come.”
The Swing (baseball) … this might be a generational thing. Ted Williams for the older set … but setting aside steroids, no one had a more compact, balanced, powerful, quick swing than Barry Bonds. No one. He should be a hitting coach…. once he gets past all that legal stuff. Hey, if McGwire can do it … nah, Bonds wouldn’t want to bother.
The Speech … August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C. Do I really need to say any more ?
The Vault … Kerri Strug on a busted ankle at the 1996 Olympics. “You can do it,” implored coach Bela Karolyi. Easy for him to say. Kerri stuck the vault, then hopped on one leg in terrible pain. It turns out she didn’t need to make the vault, because the USA women had already beaten the Russians in team gymnastics. Strug hurt her ankle when she fell on the first vault, but in the 30 seconds she had before her next vault, no one could compute the winning score needed in time. Everyone thought her vault clinched it and that’s how it is remembered.
The Anthem … best rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” ever ? Whitney Houston’s highly pre-produced Super Bowl performance, against the backdrop of the Gulf War, always draws goose bumps. Marvin Gaye’s soulful rendition with the help of only a studio tape at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game was even better. But I give the nod to Jose Feliciano for being the first. The first to personalize the anthem, at the height of the Vietnam War, in the 1968 World Series. Take it from me — 1968 was an intense year. There was a storm of protest over the anthem, and radio stations wouldn’t play Jose’s songs for three years, but his simple and heartfelt approach — at a time of great turmoil in our country — is haunting this day. In a small, symbolic way, that event was a great expression of our nation’s ideals.
The Kick … some say it’s Van Tiffin’s 52-yarder to cap an Alabama comeback and win the 1985 Iron Bowl … others point to Adam Vinatieri’s clutch Super Bowl kick … but I’ve got to go with a half-footed kicker who made a record 63-yarder to win an NFL game, Tom Dempsey beat the Lions, 19-17, in 1970. It was one of only two wins for the Saints that season. Dempsey only made 18 of 34 kicks in ’70, and after 1974 would not have been able to make that kick. That’s when goal posts were moved to the back of the end zone. His right shoe was modified and had a large, flat surface — outlawed by the NFL a few years later.