The Other Guy
A look at the great unknowns in sports history
By M.B. Roberts
Some moments in sports history are unforgettable. The Immaculate Reception. The Miracle On Ice. Home run number 715. Fans remember every detail — the what, the where and the who. Or do they?
Ask your average trivia buff to name supporting players on the most famous of plays and often you’ll get a blank stare in return. Impress them with this treasure trove of unsung heroes in sports.
On November 23, 1984, in what became arguably the most famous play in college football history, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw a 48-yard “Hail Mary” pass in the final seconds of a back-and-forth, high scoring battle to defeat the University of Miami 47-45.
It’s impossible to forget that game-clinching long bomb, but who caught it? The receiver was Flutie’s college roommate, Gerard Phelan.
Side note: Miami’s quarterback that day was Bernie Kosar who, despite being outshined by Flutie, threw for 447-yards — a school record.
Miracle on Ice
At the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N. Y., the U.S. Men’s hockey team, a rag-tag bunch of amateurs who had only been playing together a few months, delivered one of the greatest upsets in sports history when they beat the much-favored Russians 4-3.
The victory, which came at a tense point of the Cold War, gave Americans a much-needed boost in national pride but sports fans forget that when they beat the best team in the world, the U.S. team still had another round to go. Later, in a much less-climactic match, the Americans beat Finland to win the gold.
The most thrilling NASCAR races include a close battle to the end and the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 was no exception. Johnny Beauchamp and Lee Petty crossed the finish line side-by-side and initially Beauchamp was named the winner. Then officials studied film and photos and 61 hours later, Petty was awarded the win.
Although Beauchamp went on to win two Winston Cup races, it’s Petty who fans remember. The NASCAR pioneer won 54 races (a record that stood until it was topped by his son Richard) and three championships. In 2011, Petty was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
During Super Bowl VII, placekicker Garo Yepremian attempted a field goal for the Miami Dolphins that was blocked. The ball popped up and Yepremian caught it, but rather than falling on the ball to preserve the Dolphins’ 14-0 lead, he attempted a pass that bobbled into the arms of a Redskins cornerback who returned it for a touchdown.
Fans may have forgotten the blocker (Bill Brundige) and the cornerback (Mike Bass) but they recall the play. Fortunately for Yepremian, they also remember his otherwise successful career and the Dolphins win, which capped off their perfect season of 1972.
When fans recall the famous footage of Aaron jogging the bases with his head down they tend to focus on Aaron, not the Dodgers’ pitcher, Al Downing, a 1971 All-Star who surrendered the famous home run.
With just 22 seconds remaining in the 1972 AFC divisional playoffs between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw, whose team was trailing 7-6, threw a pass that bounced off two colliding players.
To the astonishment and thrill of Pittsburgh fans, the ball landed in the hands of Steelers running back Franco Harris who caught it just before it hit the ground and ran it in for a game-winning touchdown.
We remember Bradshaw and Harris. But the other guys — Pittsburgh halfback “Frenchy” Fuqua and Raiders Safety Jack Tatum — provided the bounce heard round the gridiron world.
Sports fans and shoe buyers everywhere have seen the highlight reel from Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals (the Chicago Bulls vs. the L.A. Lakers), where Michael Jordan flies high above the court and switches the ball from one hand to the other before landing a miraculous layup.
The Bulls won (107-86) and the Los Angeles player who Jordan leapt over on his way to being named NBA Finals MVP was Sam Perkins.
With only 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime during the East regional final of the 1992 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Duke Blue Devils trailed the Kentucky Wildcats 103-102. Christian Laettner caught a pass near the free-throw line, turned and hit a jump shot at the buzzer. Duke won 104-103.
Who set up the shot by passing to Laettner from almost the full-length of the court? Fellow future NBA star Grant Hill.
During the ninth inning of Game 6 in the 1993 World Series, the Toronto Blue Jays were up 3-2 in the series, but trailed the Philadelphia Phillies 6-5 in the game. Fans anticipated a Phillies win that would lead to Game 7.
With teammates Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor already on base, Toronto’s Joe Carter knocked a fastball over the left field wall. Toronto won the game 8-5 and the team was crowned World Champs.
So, who pitched the ball that gave Carter the first come-from-behind, game-winning homer in World Series history? Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams.
Despite a 24-year major league baseball career in which he accumulated more than 2,700 career hits, Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner is mostly remembered for the moment in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when a ball rolled through his legs, allowing a runner to score.
Although it wasn’t the final game and many other factors contributed to the Red Sox World Series loss, fans held a grudge for years. They blamed Buckner and seethed when they thought of Mookie Wilson, the Mets player who hit the slow roller. Maybe their wrath was misplaced. After all, it was Ray Knight who scored.