"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 3-20-10
*fascinating--arousing unflagging interest, as by charm or beauty; captivating.
~~The American Heritage Dictionary
I'm often asked to identify some of the athletes of the past who have truly impacted/fascinated me over the years--the ones who've made me exclaim "WOW!" when I've witnessed their exploits. Yes, there are many of them, but I've somehow whittled the list down to a dozen (in no particular order)--which I'll share with my readers over these next two columns. Here is Part I--a few former athletes I've considered FASCINATING:
~"Pistol" Pete Maravich--the words "electrifying", "forerunner", and "magician" come to mind--a child prodigy who could do anything with a basketball. My father pointed him out to me on TV circa 1969--saying, "Hey Bobby--come here and watch this college guy throw a full court/behind-the-back pass." Still college basketball's all-time leading scorer--3,667 points. Yes, he was the trail-blazer for the dribbling maneuvers/no-look passes we take for granted now. Still put on the greatest sports performance I've ever seen in 1977 when I watched him score 68 points against the Knicks and defensive whiz Walt Frazier--WITHOUT the benefit of a three-point shot. The Basketball Hall of Fame called him "perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history"--a 'no-brainer' as far as I'm concerned. A "freak"--a "wunderkind" who played with a congenital heart defect and died way too young. Just watch some old highlights; you'll smile, then you'll cry.
~Joe Willie Namath--"Broadway" Joe--who lived up to his name; possessed the athletic talent to play three sports professionally. "Guaranteed" a Super Bowl victory in '69--and delivered. First QB to throw for 4,000 yards in a season (14 games); took my breath away in '72 when he threw for 496 yards and SIX TD's in a game vs. Baltimore. Drained his knees at halftime regularly in order to finish games; SCARY to think what he could have done with just ONE good knee (and maybe a curfew, too). Could read defenses like they were children's books. Still think he threw the "prettiest" ball I've ever seen and MAN--that quick release! Single-handedly put the AFL on the map--while wearing the Fu Manchu at times along with the white shoes.
~Barry Sanders--most elusive running back in football history; never rushed for less than 1,000 yards in a season and went over 2,000 in 1997(with 14 consecutive 100-yard games). I often imagine what this guy would have done if he had a GOOD offensive line blocking for him in Detroit. Tackling this guy? It was like catching a water flea with a pair of pliers. Actually handed the ball to the referee and congratulated his teammates after he scored; soft-spoken individual who left the game quietly with his health intact at the age of 30--within range of becoming the NFL's all-time rusher. Refreshing, huh?
~Wayne Gretzky--"The Great One"--kinda says it all. He's the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season--a feat he accomplished four times (yes, you read that correctly). Didn't SKATE on the ice--it was more like GLIDING. He possesses more records than any athlete I can think of and probably isn't even aware of HALF of them. I was fortunate enough to see him play in Hartford during the 80's vs. the Whalers--yes, it was laughably unfair; don't think I've ever seen ANY athlete at the professional level who was SO much more talented than any other player around him. Never said much, never fought, and didn't play much defense because his OFFENSE was his defense. One of a kind.
~Bjorn Borg--Won a staggering 89.8 percent of the Grand Slam singles matches he played; 11 grand slam titles--all at Wimbledon and in Paris. Some called him "Ice Borg" for his calm court demeanor; almost seemed disinterested at times but his physical conditioning was second to none. Just loved watching his "cool" style of play--yes, he was the "anti-Connors/McEnroe." Would out-think opponents and his laser-like/topspin ground strokes were unique--contributing to the way the game is still played today. Seems to have rubbed off on the great Roger Federer--who conducts himself in the same fashion--"cruelly cool." Probably could have won more Grand Slams (played the Australian just ONCE) but was never truly interested in history/numbers. Retired at age 26.
~George Brett--LOOKED like a ballplayer with the eyeblack and high socks; always got his uniform dirty. Not blessed with a ton of speed, but led the league in triples THREE times (tells you something). 20 or more doubles, triples, AND homers in '79--a rare feat. Had all baseball fans reading K.C. boxscores in 1980 while flirting with .400; the HR he hit off Goose Gossage in the playoffs that year may STILL be traveling (hit .337 LIFETIME in the postseason). A line-drive machine; smooth swing--almost effortless--thanks to Charlie Lau. Underrated defensively--a complete player who had ice in his veins during big games. Singled in his final big league at-bat--yeah, predictable. Without doubt, my favorite baseball player of all-time--always the kind of player you wanted on YOUR team.
**To be continued next week.....