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Original Issue

Crazy Eights

The octopus has its tentacles all over the history of sports

News flash: Deep-pocketed Spaniards make big-money move for German World Cup starlet!

No, Barcelona isn't making a run at 21-year-old playmaker Mesut Özil. And no, Real Madrid isn't trying to buy Thomas Müller, who was named the tournament's Best Young Player. Rather, the prodigy in question is a two-year-old octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany.

The mollusk in question, named Paul, correctly predicted the result in each of Germany's seven World Cup games by choosing a mussel from a container marked with the winner's flag. He then picked Spain to beat the Netherlands in the final, and when his prediction came to fruition, he became a full-fledged hero in Spain.

Last week a businessman in the town of O Carballino offered to buy Paul for $45,000, while a Madrid aquarium suggested that Paul come to Spain in a swap deal. The offers were refused by Paul's handlers. It's hardly the first time an octopus has made sports headlines.

1951: While eating a salad of cucumber and cold octopus, fledgling Japanese shoemaker Kihachiro Onitsuka has a thought: If soles had suction cups like those on the tentacles of an octopus, then basketball players could run without slipping. The shoes become a sensation, and Onitsuka's company, which would later become Asics, takes off.

1952: Brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano toss an octopus onto the ice at a Red Wings playoff game—the beast's eight legs representing the eight wins then necessary to win the Stanley Cup—a Motown playoff tradition that continues to this day.

1997: Marlins pitcher Antonio Alfonseca makes his major league debut. Born with six fingers on each hand, he is nicknamed El Pulpo, or the Octopus. (No one ever confused your average major leaguer with a marine biologist.) Alfonseca joins a long list of players with cephalopod-inspired nicknames, most notably rangy shortstop Marty (the Octopus) Marion and Soviet goalkeeper Lev (the Black Octopus) Yashin.

1998: Notre Dame installs surveillance cameras throughout its football stadium after a student suffers an eye injury when she is struck by the tentacle of an octopus thrown by another fan.

2002: During the NHL conference finals, the Detroit Tigers hold a pregame octopus-throwing competition, with the winner getting tickets to the Red Wings playoff game that was going on at the same time. Pitcher Matt Anderson takes part—and within hours is doubled over with pain in his armpit. Despite skepticism from the local media, Anderson claims the octopus toss had nothing to do with the injury, from which he never fully recovers.