Well, some of the Best Legendary New England Sports Figures. In a region as rich in sporting tradition as New England, it’s tough put a limit on the number of legendary figures, so when we set out to include a few as gifts in our special 80th Anniversary Issue (“80 Gifts New England Gave to America,” September/October 2015), […]
By Yankee Magazine
Oct 19 2015
Well, some of the Best Legendary New England Sports Figures.
In a region as rich in sporting tradition as New England, it’s tough put a limit on the number of legendary figures, so when we set out to include a few as gifts in our special 80th Anniversary Issue (“80 Gifts New England Gave to America,” September/October 2015), we looked to the Yankee archives for help. Here they are, with a few extras from the archives that didn’t make it into the issue…some of the very best!
Which New England sports figure do you think is the most legendary?
Ted Williams | The Perfect Swing
When memory plays images of that Williams swing, we catch him in stillness, wound on the invisible axis of his balance, turned on himself like a barber’s pole in its shapely curving. As the mind’s carousel switches from one image to another, from the Boston Post all the way to Sports Illustrated, the gallery of spirals becomes a helix doubled and tripled by repetition. Ifwe flip these pictures fast enough, they become one sleek, mighty ripple through an unlucky pitcher’s pitch—starting from the attent cat-coil of waiting, releasing in a surge of pivoting hips to extend powerful arms, concluding with the satisfying recoil of the follow-through. There’s motion implicit in every millimeter of arrest, always turning on itself, powerfully contained within its cylinder.
In his book The Science of Hitting, Ted Williams makes the observation—with Heraclitus, Longinus, and Freud—that we progress by the reconciliation of opposites, dialectics or irony here applied to hitting a baseball: “It’s a pendulum action. A metronome—move and countermove … You throw a ball that way, you swing a golf club that way, you cast a fishing rod that way.” Always thesis and antithesis roll into synthesis. You hit that way, as you write a poem or drive a car or pitch hay that way: move and countermove. You also play a piano that way.
—”That Swing,” by Donald Hall, July 1991
Bill Belichick | ‘Just Do Your Job’
True, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick grew up in Maryland, but he attended prep school and college in New England and has lived here since 2000—and every known cliché of the stubborn, standoffish, tenacious, hardworking, independent, resilient, ingenious, and maybe even a tad slippery Yankee seems to have clung to him like a burr or a cold, wet sweatshirt. He’s taciturn and keeps things close to the vest, with all the sentimentality of Cotton Mather and a wardrobe that makes him look more ready to tap maple trees in a Vermont mud season than to coach a Super Bowl run. In Bill New England trusts, and “Just do your job” could be the motto of an entire region. Still, he does have a fondness for shiny new things. Like Lombardi Super Bowl trophies. — Ian Aldrich
Gino Auriemma and UConn Women’s Basketball | The Pride of Storrs, Connecticut
In the fall of 1985 Gino Auriemma, a 31-year-old novice head coach who had immigrated to the U.S. with his parents two decades before, took over the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, a fledgling program that had had only one winning season in its history. Thirty years later, Auriemma has made humble Storrs (population 14,000) into a basketball mecca that is the envy of basketball fans, men and women, anywhere and everywhere. The numbers: ten national titles, five undefeated seasons, and one unforgettable 90-game winning streak. The coach and the several hundred women who have played for him have transformed women’s basketball, with a Final Four that is today a major television event. Go anywhere and say “UConn basketball” and most people will nod and think, “The great women of Storrs.” — Ian Aldrich
Carrie Stevens | Dreaming of Gray Ghosts on Clear Waters
At a time when women had just been granted the vote, Carrie Stevens (1882–1970) showed that fly fishing wasn’t simply a man’s sport. From her home at Upper Dam on Maine’s Mooselookmeguntic Lake, Stevens created some of the sport’s iconic flies: Gray Ghost, Golden Witch, and Blue Charm, among others—more than 150 in all, and the stuff of legend. Her gift made Maine’s Rangeley Lakes region America’s premier fly-fishing destination.— Ian Aldrich
Mike Eruzione | The Shot Heard ’Round the World
Every time you expect something from Michael, he comes through. The good Lord must have been on his side from the start. It was uncanny. The score was 3–3 in the Russian game, and I’m sitting next to my wife, and I said, ‘You know, Helen, Michael’s not done nothing yet.’ I says, ‘C’mon, he’s due.’ I no sooner got done talking than I see the puck slide across to him. And as soon as he got the stick on it I yelled, ‘Shoot, Mike, shoot! Don’t waste time!’ And he did. He just let it go. I saw that net stretch and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s it?’ It was beautiful. And I started to think, This goal here could be a big thing. If it could stay up with no other team scoring. I knew the impact it was going to have. I held tight to my St. Anthony’s medal. ‘This is for Michael,’ I said. ‘Make this thing end 4–3. No more, no less.’ ’Cause I knew what would happen. He’s the captain. He’s got the winning goal. And the people will never forget that.”
— “The Celebrity,” by Eugene “Jeep” Eruzione, February 1981
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych | The Magical Summer of the Bird
In the summer of 1976, at the age of 21, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the man who talked to the baseball and patted the pitcher’s mound, enjoyed the briefest, most spectacular pitching career in the history of baseball. His talent and original idiosyncratic personality, which had long been known to his friends growing up in Northborough, Massachusetts, blasted into the living rooms of America. Many women, especially women, started watching baseball for the first time. His elastic rotations, the elated pirouettes, the way he would dance out across the field to congratulate his Detroit Tigers teammates after a good play—all those little things that no one had ever seen a ballplayer do before—became etched into America’s consciousness. For one flickering summer, The Bird became a household name. He showed everyone, sports fans or not, that sports could transcend wins and losses, that one radiant new star could shine so brightly he could make everyone smile.
—“The Bird Is Still the Word,” by Edie Clark, June 2001
Bobby Orr | The Greatest Hockey Defenseman
My hockey career is one I look back on with a lot of great memories — I can still recall my first game as a Bruin; I made a pass out from behind the net, watching the puck and not paying much attention to anything else — something you shouldn’t do in hockey too much — well, I was watching my beautiful pass when Gordie Howe decked all 165 pounds of me. I guess if you’re going to get decked, it might as well be by the best.
And through the years I played, I’ve held fast to one belief…Hockey is a game a small man can play, too.
— “Dreams of the NHL | I Remember,” April 1988.
Extra!Bobby Orr recalls being recruited by the Boston Bruins hockey team.
Doug Flutie | “The Miracle in Miami” for Boston College
The land hungered for a hero. Here was Doug Flutie: clean living, handsome, polite, modest; a Rhodes Scholar candidate who played with the bravado of a fighter pilot. He said his parents were his best friends. He played touch football with his old neighborhood pals. And his story read as if scripted in Hollywood. Standing a shade under 5′ 10″ and only 165 pounds, he was too small for big-time college football. Though time and again he had rescued his Natick High team from certain defeat, the Boston College coach had rejected him. Then the coach resigned. A new coach, Jack Bicknell, arrived from Maine. Dick Flutie phoned him . “Take another look at Doug,” he urged. “Look at the films.” There was one scholarship left to offer, and his son received it. When Bicknell came to the house, Dick told him, “You don’t know what you have just signed. You just don’t know.”
— Mel Allen, November 1989
Extra!Doug Flutie Hail Mary Pass | The Miracle in Miami
Bill Rogers | Marathon Man
Bill Rodgers knows marathons. In the 1970s and early 1980s, no other runner dominated the sport as he did. He won both the Boston and New York City races four times and became the first American marathoner to break the 2:10 mark. These days, Rodgers, 65, is still running (it’s half-marathons these days)and still spreading running’s good word to the rest of us. “It’s amazing,” he says. “It makes you stronger, and because you’ll feel better, you’ll have more energy. Other than meeting the love of your life, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself.” — Ian Aldrich, March/April 2013
Extra!Running Tips from Four-Time Boston Marathon Winner Bill Rodgers