The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Say it ain't so

 


There was a list compiled by ESPN not long ago that settled on the top-10 American sports upsets of all time. Of course the list was wrong. Not only because I say so, but also because you say so. Since everybody would have their own list, mine would be wrong too - at least according to yours.

Top-10 lists are always fun for sports fans. Perhaps it's why those top-10 sports shows do so well. While most of us probably don't know when such shows are on, we'll stop the clicker when spinning through the channels. ESPN airs such programming. So does MLB Network and the Golf Channel and maybe all the other sports channels, too.

Whenever I see these shows I can't help but say, "Oh c'mon! Are they kidding me?" Do they really think so-and-so was better than what's his face. A couple of years ago I saw a show that had Hank Aaron as the top baseball player of all time with Babe Ruth second and Willie Mays third.

"Oh c'mon are they kidding me?" What was Aaron's ERA?

Back to ESPN's list. It went as follows: 10. N.C. State over Houston in the 1983 NCAA finals. 9. Wrestler Rulon Gardner over Russian Alexander Karelin in the 2000 Olympics. 8. The New York Mets over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. 7. Jack Fleck beats Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open. 6. The Denver Nuggets eliminate the Sonics in the 1994 NBA playoffs. 5. Upset defeats Man 'O War in the Sanford Stakes in 1919. 4. Buster Douglas defeats MIke Tyson in 1990. 3. Villanova defeats Gerogetown in 1985 NCAA final. 2. The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. 1. The 1980 Olympic Hockey team beats the Soviet Union in the semi-final.

Oh c'mon are they kidding me.

First of all Man 'o War? A horse? In 1919? The Sanford Stakes? I'm probably the biggest horse racing fan in all of Cheyenne County. I've been following horse racing since I was a kid. I've been a fan since I first had $2 in my pocket and could hitch hike to OTB. In fact, it's my favorite sport. But a horse race has no business being on such a list.

But my big issue here isn't the horse on the list. It's the horse at the top of the list. The 1980 Olympic hockey team should be second. More on that later.

After the list was released, ESPN followed up with another list of the top 10 upsets. It was a list of which event on their list received the most letters in support. There was also an ESPN internet poll released. On those lists Man 'o War was ninth. My assumption is that those who picked Man 'o War simply had no other ideas so they went with an event they saw on the original list. I doubt many sports fans have even heard of Man 'o War.

I can just imagine the funny business that went on in horse racing back then - or the funny business that goes on now. The Lord only knows what Upset was given for breakfast that morning in August, 1919.

Maybe there was more money being offered Man 'o War's trainer than was offered to Shoeless Joe Jackson a few months later. I wonder if Arnold Rothstein was at the track that day. So what that he was a 100-1 long shot. It may not happen everyday but huge longshots are routine in horse racing. Funny business too.

Just as I am likely the biggest horse racing fan in the neighborhood I'm probably the biggest hockey fan too. I remember the 1980 U.S. Olympic team well. Four of the players on that team played for Boston University - my alma mater. The captain of the 1980 team (Mike Eruzioni) and the much heralded goalie (Jim Craig) played for BU. I was a freshman in 1980.

Baseball may be America's pastime and football is America's favorite game, but in Boston hockey is king. Hockey at BU is like football at the University of Nebraska. I seldom heard anybody talk about the football team at BU But conversations about hockey were everwhere.

As the Huskers have often been a national powerhouse on the gridiron, so BU has been on the ice.

The defeat of the Soviet Union was a big deal not just for Boston, but for America. That's really the big reason it winds up at the top of so many lists. The whole country was involved in the celebration.

In 1980 the Cold War was still very much alive. Because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter pushed America's boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. The Soviets returned the favor by staying home from Los Angeles in 1984. Even American television shows portrayed Soviets as enemies. The evil Soviets were a part of American culture - we were raised on it.

Sure many Americans are tired of Vladimir Putin poking his finger in America's eye every chance he gets. But multply that 10 fold to understand what it was like when Carter and Leonid Brezhnev were at the seats of government.

It was a phenominal achievement and the most exciting sporting event of my lifetime. It was so because it was exciting for everybody - even for those who didn't know a hockey puck from Don Rickles.

But purely from a sports perspective, the 1980 Olympic victory was not the greatest American sports upset. Not on my list anyway. Unfortunately, I'm biased.

So I'm a Mets fan. Always have been, always will be. But the 1969 Mets have to go on top of the list simply because it seems to me to have been so much more unlikly a happening. The Mets were not only bad before 1969 they were the worst. The great sports announcer and outdoorsman Curt Gowdy many years ago used that same argument for putting the Mets on top of his upset list.

The Mets 120 losses in '62 is a record of futility that still stands. The only point of reference anyone had about the Mets in '69 was that they were pathetic. Had they achieved a .500 record it would have been an accomplishment lauded by press and fans alike. But there was no point of reference whatsoever for success regarding the Mets.

Not only did the Mets win in '69 they took four out of five from a team that won 109 games - a benchmark rarely achieved in the long history of the game. In one game anything is possible. Could the USA have held on in a best-of-seven series. Not likely.

The 1980 Olympic hockey team was a bunch of college kids playing a Soviet team that was, in all reality, a professional team. It wasn't realistic to think the U.S. could even stay with the Rooskies for one period. In an exhibition game prior to the Olympics the Soviets blew the U.S.A. out of the building.

So it was an extraordiary achievement. It was the Miracle on Ice. But precedented. Twenty years earlier the U.S. shocked the Soviets at the Squaw Valley Olympics. It was possible then, for a person's mind to wander off to a place where they could think, "No way, but it's happened before. Maybe. Just maybe it could happen again. It's just one game"

On April 1, 1969 nobody could say any such thing about the Mets. But only New Yorkers cared about them - and not even all New Yorkers. Don't forget about all those misguided Yankee fans.

Admittedly the 1980 win was more special. Even for me. That team surely belongs on the top of the most special of all time. But second on the upset list. So let's say the Amazin's top the MIracle's by Upset's nose.

 

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