We now wind up a year of millennial list-making by looking at
our favorite individual feats. Once more, you may find it
impossible to guess what we were thinking (or smoking). Johnny
Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters, but not Don Larsen's
perfect game? Exasperating, isn't it? (Judging from our mail,
it's been a little more than that for some of you.) Greg
LeMond's comeback in the Tour de France, but not Lance
Armstrong's? (Infuriating is more like it.) You've put up with a
lot from us this past year, absorbing one list after another,
barely able to shake off one bit of monumental nonsense before
another is delivered: Hogan's 1953 U.S. Open win, but not
Tiger's triumph in the '97 Masters? (You've about had it, right?)
So, at the risk of more angry letters, we feel compelled to
state once again our guiding principle, and principal defense:
that this business of sports is acutely personal. Surprisingly
so, considering the extreme measures we have taken to give our
games an aura of objectivity. We have stopwatches, tape
measures, instant replays, yardage markers, punch-stats and an
ever-swelling army of fanatics churning out statistics of such
mathematical refinement as to render all argument futile. Yet,
we still don't agree on much.
Apparently sports are far more complicated than we thought. In
our minds, though, Roger Bannister's four-minute mile is the
kind of achievement that deserves a millennial endorsement. And
you, having been ringside at the Hearns-Hagler firestorm during
which nobody remembered to breathe for eight full minutes, yawn
at our refinement. Neither event can ever be replicated. Nor, as
we've learned over the past year, universally appreciated.
But let's not argue. Let's agree that certain events--not merely
athletic milestones, but also exultant displays of spirit and
work and (yes) luck--have established the outer boundaries of
human achievement. It doesn't get any better than this. It won't
get any better than this. It can't.
Anyway, we've got a fresh new millennium coming up, and if we
can just work together a little more closely this time (and keep
in mind just how personal games are), we will surely find
something we can agree upon. For example--and this might be a
good starting point for our 3K list--is anybody ever going to
hit safely in 57 straight games? Not in a thousand years.
May 6, 1954
The serious-minded medical student dutifully made his morning
hospital rounds in London, then took a train out to Oxford,
stepped onto a cinder track and, in his first race of the year,
ran the mile in 3:59.4--thereby surmounting the most glamorous
athletic barrier of the century, the four-minute mile, which had
eluded runners for decades.
May 29, 1953
At least 16 men had already died trying to reach the top of
Mount Everest when Edmund Hillary, a lanky New Zealand
beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, a Buddhist Sherpa, awoke in their
tent 2,000 feet below the summit and began their last laborious
climb through the knee-deep snow. At 11:30 a.m. Hillary took
that final step--his two feet were upon the peak, and the spirit
of human endeavor soared higher than it ever had before.
May 15 to July 16, 1941
There have been middling assaults on Joe DiMaggio's record
56-game hitting streak in the past 58 years, but like Sisyphus's
boulder, an 0-fer brings all the mortals tumbling back down the
mountain. Joltin' Joe's streak will probably find its way into
the Dec. 30, 2999 edition of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: THREE THOUSAND
YEARS OF MEMORIES.
October 18, 1924
The Galloping Ghost scored the first four times he touched the
ball against mighty Michigan: He ran back the opening kickoff 95
yards and then scored on runs of 67, 56 and 44 yards. Before the
day was over, Grange would score another touchdown, complete six
passes, including one for a TD, and account for more than 400
yards in the Illini's 39-14 victory. Oh, and he sat out the
July 16, 1932
Of all the great Babes--from Ruth to Bardot--none ever had a
bigger day than the one Mildred Didrikson had at the women's AAU
nationals. Entering the meet as the sole member of the Employers
Casualty squad, the 5'2", 105-pound, 18-year-old Texan won six
gold medals (shot put, baseball throw, long jump, 80-meter
hurdles, high jump and javelin) and broke four world records.
June 11-15, 1938
Johnny Vander Meer
Two months into his first full season in the majors, 23-year-old
Johnny Vander Meer no-hit the Boston Bees. In his next start,
against the Dodgers, in the first night game at Ebbetts Field,
he threw another no-no. Vander Meer would be a three-time
strikeout champion with an unspectacular record (119-121), but
if you're looking for a record that never will be broken,
consider this: His back-to-back no-hitters have never been
March 2, 1962
Wilt had already broken Elgin Baylor's record of 71 points in a
game twice that season, but on this night, playing against two
overmatched Knicks centers, he was ruthless. Twenty-three points
in the first quarter, 41 by the half, 69 going into the fourth
quarter. He was even brilliant from the free throw line, hitting
28 of 32. A Dipper Dunk with 48 seconds left got Wilt to 100.
Trivia answer: Al Attles was second high on the Warriors that
night with 17 points.
Tom Seaver and Sandy Koufax? No, their combined victories total
is 35 short. How about Bob Feller and Juan Marichal? Close, but
still two wins away. How 'bout Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John
Smoltz? That does it. The core of the best staff of the past
quarter century has 565 career wins, a mere 54 more than Young,
who won at least 25 games in 12 of his 22 seasons. For a man who
lost a record 316 games, Cy Young wasn't a bad pitcher.
September 2, 1977-June 4, 1987
Edwin Moses started his 107-race winning streak in the 400-meter
hurdles a year after he won the gold medal in that event at the
1976 Olympics. All he had to do each race was clear 10
three-foot-high barriers while running nearly as fast as a
sprinter--for nine years, nine months and nine days. Most
athletes' careers don't last that long.
March 8-August 4, 1945
No one has ever played perfect golf, but Byron Nelson came
closest with his 11 straight PGA Tour victories. No one has ever
scored so low for so long--Nelson's stroke average was 67.86
during the Streak--which he attributed to three things: better
chipping, the elimination of careless shots and the desire to
win enough to buy his own ranch. Lord Byron got the ranch, lost
the hunger and retired the next year at age 34.
Wayne Gretzky ended his career with 2,857 points, 54% more than
the second-best scorer in NHL history, Gordie Howe. His
statistical dominance of the NHL is as reassuring as it is
staggering because so much of his genius was ethereal: his
vision, his timing, his singular sense of the game. The 2,857
matters because, at last, it captures the Great One in black and
June 9, 1973
From the days of Sysonby in the century's first decade through
the 16-race winning streak of Cigar in its last, nothing stands
out like Secretariat's win in the Belmont Stakes. When he hit
the wire a record 31 lengths in front, an astonishing message
was on the teletimer: 2:24 flat, shattering the old mark by
almost three seconds. As a measure of speed, strength and
endurance, it was the performance of the century--by a horse for
July 10, 1924
Paavo Nurmi put the Finn in finish at the Paris Olympics,
winning the 1,500 meters and the 5,000 within a span of 70
minutes. With 500 meters to go in the 5,000, Nurmi sneaked a
peek at the stopwatch he always carried to check his progress,
then flung it into the grass and picked up the pace to set his
second Olympic record that day.
August 28-September 4, 1972
Some countries have not won as many Olympic gold medals in their
history as Spitz won in Munich. He won the 100 and 200 freestyles
and the 100 and 200 butterfly and was on three winning U.S. relay
teams. Who needs to walk on water when you can fly?
October 18, 1968
The scoreboard flashed the message that he had long-jumped 8.90
meters on his first attempt in the Olympic finals in Mexico
City, but Bob Beamon had never gone metric, so he asked U.S.
teammate Ralph Boston how far that was. Boston replied, "Bob,
you jumped 29 feet!" (It was 29'2 1/2", to be exact.) When
Beamon realized that he'd broken the world record by an
astounding 21 3/4", he fell to the ground, overcome by tears and
nausea, in what was later called "a cataplectic seizure" (also
known as jumping for joy).
April 9-July 10, 1953
The 1949 auto accident that nearly killed Ben Hogan left him
with battered legs and shoulders and an impaired left eye, but
at the 1953 Masters he broke the tournament scoring record by
five strokes. At brutal Oakmont he won his fourth U.S. Open by
six strokes. He did not play in the PGA Championship that year
because it overlapped with the British Open, where he mastered
the smaller British ball, then mastered Carnoustie to win by
four. Hogan played in six events in 1953 and won five of them.
April 23, 1964
Toronto defenseman Bob Baun came off the ice late in Game 6 of
the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit after a Gordie Howe slap
shot fractured his right ankle. He told a trainer to tape him
up, then scored in overtime. Baun spent the next 48 hours
ducking the team doctor, then played half the game in Toronto's
4-0 win in Game 7.
July 23, 1989
The experts said the final trial was too short, the time to make
up too great. But LeMond raced through Paris faster than any
Tour de France cyclist ever had, and when leader Laurent Fignon
crossed the finish line, LeMond had won by an unthinkable eight
March 26, 1973
"Our strategy is simple," John Wooden once said. "Go to [Bill]
until the opposing team stops it." Nobody did in the 1973 NCAA
championship game, as Walton scored 44 points on 21-of-22 field
goal attempts in UCLA's 87-66 defeat of Memphis State.
How towering is Petty's NASCAR record of 200 career wins? The
racer in second has 105. The meteoric Jeff Gordon can catch
Petty--if he maintains his current pace...for 16 more years.
COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: PHOTO MONTAGE BY NOLA LOPEZ
COLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ/MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME WILT CHAMBERLAIN Uniform worn the night he scored 100 points against the New York Knicks.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER SIBBALD/MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF HOCKEY HALL OF FAME WAYNE GRETZKY Puck used to score his final NHL point, which was an assist.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES/MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF PENNY CHENERY SECRETARIAT Horseshoe worn the day he won the Belmont to complete the Triple Crown in 1973.
COLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ/MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME RED GRANGE The Galloping Ghost's Illini jersey from the 1924 season.
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER/MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF U.S. GOLF ASSOCIATION BEN HOGAN His fabled one-iron, a club he hit as well as any professional golfer ever has.
COLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ/MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF PETTY ENTERPRISES RICHARD PETTY His signature cowboy hat, which he took off, albeit reluctantly, to race.
TWO B/W PHOTOS: INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO (2)
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
B/W PHOTO: ACME
COLOR PHOTO: PRESSE-SPORTS