Rich Strike, inspirer of sports lists
Best moment, biggest upset, most memorable performances on four legs and other things that must be counted
That’s what I have today.
Maybe three of them.
Blame Rich Strike.
Blame the Kentucky Derby.
Because I can’t stop.
I cam’t stop watching the 80-to-1 long shot come home, squirreling through the whole field, catching the play-by-play guy calling the race by surprise, who didn’t seem to see him until he was in front and who, once he saw him, couldn’t believe it.
It has me thinking about the greatest sports moments I’ve ever watched on television and the biggest upsets of my lifetime, and maybe my own personal top 10 horse racing moments, and then, of course, when my mind goes to lists, I have to reconsider my pro wrestling Mount Rushmore, the best sports movies and maybe the best sports voices, a topic I actually think about all the time.
That seems like a start, right.
So, those lists, at least.
Periodically, I’ll make a point about entrants on the lists.
Though a few of these lists might be told in “word-of-god” — as though they’re not just my opinion, but ought to be everybody’s, others are clearly personal and not meant to be universal. I think I’ve spent my life writing in both voices.
Of course, I feel the pressure, because this only works if I’m interesting.
Or maybe maybe just my brain.
Here we go …
Greatest sports moments I’ve witnessed
1. Cabrera knocks in Bream, Braves win 1992 NLCS*
2. Miracle on Ice
3. The Greatest Game Ever Played; Celtics-Suns, triple overtime, Game 5, 1976 NBA Finals
4. Rumble in the Jungle, Ali knocks out Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, Oct. 30, 1974
5. Secretariat, 1973 Belmont
6. Kirk Gibson’s home run, Game 1, 1988 World Series
7. Zenyatta wins 2009 Breeders Cup Classic
8. Nicklaus wins ’86 Masters
9. Rich Strike wins ’22 Kentucky Derby
10. Hagler-Hearns, first round, April 15, 1985
* I watched it happen between Pizza Shuttle deliveries, standing in the dining room at the Lindsey store, one of my three jobs — I was also serving papers and assisting my uncle, a private investigator — at the time, between my first newspaper job in Marble Falls, Texas, and my second, sports editor of the Woodward News.
I grew up watching the Braves, maybe 100 games a year for a several-year stretch beginning in 1982. I was listening to it on the radio during deliveries and stealing glances at the television in the store. I’ll never feel that way again, sportswriting having killed my fandom for teams, but not my fandom for sports.
Biggest upsets of my lifetime
1. Leicester wins English Premier League, 2016
2. Rich Strike wins ’22 Kentucky Derby
3. Miracle on Ice*
4. Chaminade beats No. 1 Virginia on Dec. 23, 1982, in Honolulu
5. Rulon Gardner wins wrestling gold over Aleksandr Karelin at 2000 Sydney Games
6. Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson in Tokyo, Feb. 11, 1990
7. Villanova beats Georgetown for ’85 national championship
8. Jets over Colts at Super Bowl III
9. Chris Moneymaker wins ’03 World Series of Poker main event
10. North Carolina State over Phi Slama Jama Houston for ’83 national championship.
* I was 11 and began a scrapbook, cutting stories out of The Oklahoman after coach Herb Brooks’ team topped Czechoslovakia 7-3 in their second game. I knew then it was serious, because the Czechs were considered a silver medal possibility.
I also remember well, though they didn’t broadcast much of the game, Bill Baker scoring in the final minute — 20 seconds left, I think — to forge a 2-2 tie with Sweden in the opener.
Fun fact, they played the Soviet Union it in the afternoon in Lake Placid. It was actually on the radio live in Oklahoma City and I heard a score, like 3-2 Soviet Union, at some point. I hated knowing anything in advance, but I was blown away the U.S. was actually in the game.
Another fun fact, that wasn’t the gold medal game. The U.S. still had to beat Finland to win gold and actually trailed after two periods.
Yet another fun fact, I know all this from memory, 42 years later.
(though it turns out Baker tied Sweden with 27 seconds remaining)
My top 10 horse racing moments
1. Secretariat at the ’73 Belmont
2. Zenyatta at the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic*
3. Zenyatta at the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic*
4. Rich Strike wins ’22 Kentucky Derby
5. Affirmed wins ’78 Triple Crown
6. Funny Cide wins ’03 Kentucky Derby and Preakness
7. Seattle Slew wins ’77 Triple Crown
8. Seabiscuit wins match race over War Admiral, on Oct. 30, 1937 (clearly, I didn’t see this one live)
9. American Pharoah wins ’15 Triple Crown
10. Justify wins ’18 Triple Crown
• Zenyatta, a filly, won 19 of 20 races over a four-year career, always going last to first. The Breeders’ Cup is the Super Bowl of horse racing and the Classic is the most significant horse race of the two-day event.
You can google it right now and watch her beat the boys in the biggest horse race in the world in ’09 and all but do it again, losing by a nose, her first defeat, in her final race, the ’10 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
It might make you cry.
My Pro Wrestling Mt. Rushmore
1. Ric Flair*
2. Dusty Rhodes
3. Bobby Heenan
4. Diamond Dallas Page
* I met Flair, once, told him I was sports editor of The Norman Transcript, it was an honor, put my hand out and asked if he’d be willing to take a few questions.
He shook my hand and said, “The honor is mine,” and was happy to answer a few questions standing on the sidelines of the Everest Indoor Training Center, where OU was conducting an open football practice, before Bob Stoops closed them up. Flair was there with Jim Ross, voice of WWF/WWE, a huge Sooner fan and a Norman resident.
I connected Flair’s graciousness with his long, variously interrupted run as NWA world champion, back when that meant wrestling all over the world, 300 nights a year.
Beyond his unending talent and work ethic, the powers that be knew they could trust him with the belt, trust him to treat promoters, fans, ushers, other wrestlers, you name it, professionally.
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Best Sports Movies
2. The Natural
5. Bend It Like Beckham
6. Semi Tough
7. The Bad News Bears
8. Long Gone*
9. Major League
10. Dead Solid Perfect*
* Both HBO movies back when HBO was one channel, not 10. Long Gone stars young William Petersen and young Virginia Madsen and it’s baseball and I’ll take it over Bull Durham. Dead Solid Perfect, starring Randy Quaid before he lost his mind, is a golf movie based on a Dan Jenkins book (as is Semi Tough) and I just remember watching it and howling. I liked Tin Cup, too, but not as much.
Best sports voices
1. Vin Scully
2. Ernie Harwell
3. Bob Costas
4. Harry Kalas
5. Dick Enberg
6. Jon Miller*
7. Dan Shulman*
8. Sean McDonough*
9. Brent Musberger
10. Howard Cosell**
* These three are still doing it (actually Costas is, too, occasionally calling games for MLB Network, though it’s been a long, long, long time since he had a regular gig). Miller was the longtime voice of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and for many years has been the radio voice of the San Francisco Giants. Shulman’s ESPN’s top college basketball guy, but his real job is TV play-by-play for the Toronto Blue Jays. McDonough has called everything, including, in his 20s, Francisco Cabrera knocking in Sid Bream for CBS. He may be the most informative play-by-play voice I’ve ever heard and he’s been killing it calling hockey for ESPN this season and I believe he’s got the Stanley Cup Finals. I can’t wait.
** Howard’s voice was no great shakes but none has been as ubiquitous in American sports history (though Musberger may have given him a run).