Pirates, Jayhawks, and Overtime. Three Great Games to Remember

If you are a sports fan a few games stick out in your mind as special.  Maybe you even call them the best ever.  Depending on your taste and interest you no doubt have a favorite game, its all entirely personal.  My favorite game would be Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.  A few people may tell you that the 1988 NCAA Championship was your favorite, or even more recently the Memphis KU Championship game.

I recently read several books that recount games that happened years ago but were very memorable.  Each game could be considered the best game ever played.   Each of the  books recount games with an underdog fighting a supposedly invincible foe.

Best Game Ever; Pirates vs. the Yankeesby Jim Reisler.

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Reisler,  lovingly if not exactly tells of the events of the famous 7th game of the 1960 World Series. The series matched up the New York Yankees and the Pittsburg Pirates.   The Pirates were a huge underdog.  They were managed by the redoubtable Danny Murtaugh, and led on the field Roberto Clemente, and Bill Mazeroski.  In the other dugout the Yankees were led by manager Casey Stengel.

These were the Yankees led by Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris.The Yankees had appeared in the World Series 9 times in the previous decade.  On the other hand the Pirates were perennial losers.  Having finished with only two winning records in the previous decade while finishing last 5 times during the 1950’s.  On the field this apparent mismatch was further underscored by the fact that the Pirates were outscored in the series 55-27.  Losing games 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0, while winning by scores of 6-4 3-2, and 5-2.

This nomination for the “Best Game Ever” centered on the ultimate pitcher batter confrontation between Ralph Terry and Bill Mazeroski.   The game ended on a bottom of the ninth inning home-run by Mazeroski.  The blast still remembered by Pirate fans is still the only time a World Series was decided by a home run in the last inning of the seventh game.  The result prompted Yogi Berra to say, “we made too many wrong mistakes.”

Bill Mazeroski would play for another World Series Champion in 1971 at the end of his career.  Based on this event and winning 9 Gold Gloves as the outstanding defensive player of his era, “Maz “was elected into The Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Yankees would go on to play in the next four World Series, winning two and losing two.  Ralph Terry a Springfield Missouri native would find himself two years later in a similar situation in the 7th game of the 1962 World Series.  This time he redeemed himself by getting the final out of a 1 to 0 game.   Casey Stengel was not as fortunate.  The fallout from this surprising loss led to his firing at age 70.  When his firing was announced by the Yankees, Stengel’s age was cited as the reason.  In response, the ever quotable Stengel remarked, “if that’s the case I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”

The Best Game Ever:How Frank McGuires Tarheels beat Wilt and Revolutionized College Basketball,  by Adam Lucas

The Best Game Ever: How Frank McGuire's '57 Tar Heels Beat Wilt and Revolutionized College Basketball

Before Dean Smith left Kansas for North Carolina and 30 years before Roy Williams left Carolina Blue for Jayhawk Blue and back again. The Jayhawks and the Tarheels met in one of the most famous and arguably the best NCAA final game ever.  The game, a triple overtime 54-53 win by Carolina who despite being undefeated were heavy underdogs against the Jayhawks and Wilt Chamberlain.  In making the case for the greatest game ever author Adam Lucas’ tells of how the undersized 1957 North Carolina team defeated Kansas led by the great Wilt Chamberlain.

.  College basketball in the 1950’s was played in a different time and age.  The sport was primarily a regional game, and the national interest was vastly different.  There were not terms like Bracketology, March Madness, Dick Vitale was a teenager, and of course there was no such thing as ESPN.  The game was played before a sell-out crowd in Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium before 10,000 fans.  It was not even called the Final Four back then, and there were only 16 radio and TV outlets on hand to broadcast the game.

The case for greatness of the game on the North Carolina side lies in its coach Frank McGuire and his team made up of primarily New York Irish Catholics.  The Tar Heels were  led by All American Lennie Rosenbluth and Tommy Kearns a 5’11 guard who was tabbed to jump center against the 7 foot tall Wilt Chamberlain.  Wilt was larger than life he did things on the court no had ever done before.  This matchup helped to start the transformation that led college basketball from a regional passion to the national game it is today.

On the Kansas side the result of the game was shattering.  The triple overtime loss help to fuel Wilt Chamberlains unfair legacy as being a player who could not come through in the clutch.  With a one point loss he was fairly or unfairly branded a loser, who at the end of the big game would come out on the short end.   Years later Tommy Kearns the 5 ft 11 guard who opened the game facing Chamberlain in the opening tip, had this to say about Wilt.  “Wilt unfairly got the loser label attached to him after the game.He was supposed to go to Kansas, win three championships and move on.  And here we are being honored as legends for a 1 point triple overtime win.  The difference between winning and losing is extraordinary it really is.”

Wilt played one more year at Kansas and did not return until February of 1998. After 40 years his number was finally retired.   In a emotional speech he spoke to the crowd saying because of that loss I let the university, my team down and I let the fans down.

Best Game Ever:Giants vs The Colts and the Birth of the Modern NFL, by Mark Bowden.

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This game focused on the 1958 NFL Championship game between the NY Giants and Baltimore Colts.  It was the first pro football game to go into overtime with the Colts winning 23-17.  This game probably was not the most artistic or aesthetically pleasing game ever played but its impact helped shape the NFL into the most popular game in our country today.

Bowdens narrative of the game and the stories of the men who played and coached in it is wonderful.  Plenty of inside information was given on the Glamorous NY Giants led by Frank Gifford, with assistants coaches like Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.  The Colts represented the hard working town of Baltimore, led by men like Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry.

Following the game people began to see the potential that existed in televising football.   The game was growing in popularity in post war America, but football was still overshadowed by the national past time baseball.  This game proved to be a turning point in the games popularity as it was televised to millions of viewers nation wide.

One thing I love about the games we watch and the teams we root for.  We never know what will happen next.  Who knows when the next time that a light hitting second baseman hits a game winning home-run.  Or we see a 5 ft 11 guard jump center against a 7 ft tall giant.  The next great game is waiting to be played.

  • Terry Miller

    Great stories. I was lucky enough to be at Allen Field House the day Wilt came back to have his jersey retired. My mom offered me her tickets and I said, “Are you sure? You know they’re retiring Wilt’s jersey at the game.” She said no, you go ahead and take Ben, so we went. It was a really special experience for this KU fan. I’m glad Wilt finally came back to Kansas and felt the love and respect from the fans that day. He passed away less than a year later.(October 12, 1999).

  • Brian Herder

    That’s great Terry, I was actually at that game too. One thing about Wilt that many might not know is he was an extraordinarily intelligent and talented guy. I thought he was fun to listen to when he was alive and giving interviews.

    Regarding the 1957 game, my two least favorite impressive KU basketball stats are KU’s 0-3 NCAA Finals record at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, and being the only program in history to lose the National Championship by one point — twice.

  • Dave Coleman

    I think the phrase that best describes Chamberlain is from a title to one of his biographies. “Wilt: just like anyother 7 foot tall black millionaire, who lives next door”