#3. Battle of the Sexes
The story you know:
In 1973, Billie Jean King, a professional women's tennis player, defeated Bobby Riggs, a chauvinistic professional men's tennis player, thus legitimizing women's rights in a way no march, protest, or legislation ever could. The renowned feminist scholars at ESPN concluded that King's victory made it "acceptable for American women to exert themselves in pursuits other than childbirth."
And thus, the birth of modern pornography!
But actually ...
Unfortunately, what we like to remember as a victory for women everywhere was actually a victory for trolls and the blurring of the line between real sports and professional wrestling.
Which, incidentally, is exactly how we would describe the short-lived XFL.
Bobby Riggs was more con man than professional tennis player. When he first challenged her, King refused, because everyone knew Riggs would do just about anything for attention and money -- including betting he could beat someone using a frying pan as a racket. But when he beat the No. 1 female tennis player in the world, and Time and Sports Illustrated put him on their covers, King let herself get sucked into his nonsense. Riggs was the prototypical troll, issuing outlandishly sexist statements to the media and showing his opinion for women by going to photo shoots dressed as King Henry VIII. On the day that she supposedly scored a victory for feminism, King was carried into the stadium on a throne held by a bunch of muscular track stars wearing togas while Riggs entered driving a throng of female slaves.
Given that he was that anti-woman, you'd expect him to be pretty masculine. You'd be wrong, though.
The fact that anyone was surprised when King beat him says way more about just how rock-stupid American men were at the time. Riggs was 55 at the time of the match, while King was 29 and in the prime of what was probably the best female tennis career ever. It was like John McEnroe challenging Serena Williams to a match, if John McEnroe was three years older than he is right now.
And if McEnroe found a way to become even more of a crybaby douchebag.
Like King, Babe Didrikson also played tennis. Unlike King, she also played every other sport ever invented. Seriously. She successfully competed in basketball, track, golf, baseball, tennis, swimming, diving, boxing, volleyball, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling. She won gold medals at the 1932 Olympics in high jump, 80-meter hurdles and javelin. We'd joke that such a badass woman would never conquer domestic duties, except Didrikson was a competitive seamstress and won the Texas Seamstress Championship.
In 1946, she dug out what is now known as Daytona Beach with only a stick.
However, since female athletes in the 1930s were regarded as highly as communist Irish atheists, there were almost no outlets for female sports, forcing Didrikson to take up one of the few socially acceptable sports for females -- golf.
Didrikson utterly dominated her opponents, winning 41 LPGA events and 10 majors. More importantly, she shocked people by refusing to act feminine. She went as far to try out and qualify for the PGA in 1945, something no other woman was able to do until 2003. Her imposing and unapologetic demeanor made future athletes like Billie Jean King more acceptable in mainstream sports and greatly advanced female athletics.
#2. Biggest Draft Bust: Mike Phipps
The story you know:
Much like Punxsutawney Phil, NFL draft experts burst onto the scene every year to give us their predictions, which are almost always very wrong. Inevitably, one of the experts will compare a prospect to ex-NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft, who until recently was crowned by many as the biggest draft bust of all time. However, after the career of Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell took off like the Challenger, there is now a debate over which of these quarterbacks sucked the most.
Ryan Leaf, still learning the rules, attempts to hatch the football.
But actually ...
Mike Phipps, was selected third overall in the 1970 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. While drafting that early is sort of the Browns' thing these days, Cleveland was a great football team when they drafted Phipps. They had a 26-15 record in the three seasons before Phipps became a starter, and they hadn't had a losing season since 1956.
Phipps stares in stunned silence as he finds out that he cannot eat the football.
And then Phipps stepped to the plate and, well ...
As the above table shows, debating which quarterback is the worst is kind of like debating which Jersey Shore character you want to sleep with; at the end of the day, the mere thought of it makes you vomit.
And yet any one of them are a better quarterback than those three.
However, the most important criteria in determining which is the biggest draft bust is the impact that each had on his team. Russell and Leaf have similar stories -- both were drafted by terrible franchises and did nothing more than continue their misery. Russell became the starting quarterback in 2008, after his Raiders posted a terrible 10-36 record in the three years before. The Chargers had a 21-27 record in the three seasons before Leaf took over. Phipps single-handedly sunk what up to that point had been a powerhouse franchise, leading the Browns to a 4-10 record in '74 and a 3-11 record in '75.
In fact, he ruined so much so fast, opposing teams referred to him as "Thanks."
Even worse, fans had to endure Leaf and Russell for only two and three seasons, respectively. Phipps plagued Cleveland for seven seasons. So while Leaf and Russell were nothing more than short-lived hopes, Phipps was a one-man wrecking ball who single-handedly destroyed one of the league's most dominant franchises.
#1. Willis Reed Plays (Badly) While Injured
The story you know:
Willis Reed, the Knicks' captain and best player, tore a muscle in his right thigh during Game 5 of the 1970 NBA finals between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. After getting blown out by 22 points in Game 6, the Reed-less Knicks entered Game 7 with little hope of winning. Much to everyone's surprise, Reed emerged from the locker room to wild applause mere moments before tipoff. The Knicks won the game, and the NBA has named Reed's dramatic display one of the NBA's greatest moments.
A doctor checks to make sure Reed's pants are in the correct reality.
But actually ...
After averaging 32 points in the first four games, Reed only scored four points in 27 minutes, actually hurting his team's chance of winning the game. Many sportswriters suggest that Reed's mere presence inspired his team to victory. It's a nice thought, but it's more likely that this is an example of East Coast bias by a New York-centric media. Just as people think Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle were the best players of the 50s due to the fact that they played in New York City and Boston, when it was some dude named Stan Musial, there have been many far greater performances by more seriously injured players. We've already touched on Jack Youngblood playing an entire NFL playoff game and the Super Bowl on a broken leg, but even Youngblood pales in comparison to the injury and distance from New York of German goaltender Bert Trautmann.
A man so tough, he'd nail your girlfriend in front of you. Then kick your ass for letting him do it.
Trautmann was the star player on the Manchester City soccer team. With 15 minutes left to play in the 1956 FA Cup Final, Trautmann collided with an attacking player while trying to preserve his team's 3-1 lead. The collision broke his neck, and the ruthless soccer rules of the time didn't allow a substitution to take place for such a minor issue.
Just block, you pansy. We've seen men play without heads.
While a lesser man would have spent the remaining time crying on the ground or dead, Trautmann put the team on his back. During this time, Trautmann didn't allow a single goal, and even made a spectacular save against the player who broke his neck. He played so well that nobody suspected something was wrong until the man placing the medals around the player's neck noticed that Trautmann's head was crooked.
Mike can be contacted at Mikey.Cooney@gmail.com for freelance opportunities.
Want to be the next Larry Bird? Then check out 5 Bizarre Brain Hacks That Make You Better at Sports. Or just get really good at StarCraft, like the folks in 5 Insane True Facts About StarCraft: The Professional Sport.