Sports figures in 2015 loss column


by Brad Gilbert, - bgilbert@civitasmedia.com



The loss column is where to look in the standings. Those are the ones that can never be made up.

And losses, of a different kind, hit Philadelphia in 2015 with the deaths of two 76ers centers — backboard-busting Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone, who gave basketball a math lesson with his playoff sweep prediction of “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” that fell just short. Joining them was Dolph Schayes, the Syracuse Nationals center who briefly played for and coached Philadelphia in its Wilt Chamberlain days.

There were losses in baseball of Joaquin Andujar, Dean Chance, Dave Henderson, Darryl Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Frank Malzone, Bill Monbouquette, Al Rosen. In hockey, the Islander coach Al Arbour and the great Canadians winger Dickie Moore.

Losses of boxing champions Gene Fullmer and Bob Foster. And in football of Ken Stabler, quarterback of the renegade Raiders, and Garo Yepremian, whose slapstick field-goal attempt lives in Super Bowl lore.

Losses of the Harlem Globetrotter legends Marques Haynes and Meadowlark Lemon, who spread the gospel of basketball and laughter across the world.

Losses of those who cut a path for black players to follow: Minnie Minoso (baseball), Earl Lloyd (basketball), Pete Brown, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford (golf); and Mal Whitfield (track). And those while on the job: Indy Car driver Justin Wilson, struck by debris at Pocono and gone the next day at 37.

Other losses, lives that soared across the games:

ERNIE BANKS

Lots of players are in the Hall of Fame. How many bring a credo, a way of life, with them? “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” Ernie Banks wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ernie Banks, with a whip-fast swing, sinewy wrists and light bat, played 19 seasons and hit 512 homers. He made 11 All-Star teams and was MVP in 1958 and 1959. He was a Gold Glove shortstop before switching to first base. And all this for the Chicago Cubs, who have long crafted the art of defeat.

But the stats don’t account for the statue of “Mr. Cub” outside Wrigley Field. Banks, who died at 83, spoke to the transcendent joys of sports. He never was ejected and never argued with umpires. Why stoop to such pettiness?

Banks also never made it to the postseason, but Hall of Famer Al Kaline reminds Cubs fans of this: “They can always say they got to see the great Ernie Banks.”

FRANK GIFFORD

His was the golden life.

The All-American USC running back with chiseled looks who became the face of the great New York Giant teams of the 1950s and ’60s and then rode another wave of celebrity in the “Monday Night Football” booth and as husband of TV host Kathie Lee Gifford.

Frank Gifford played in five NFL title games and was league MVP in 1956. Giants co-owner John Mara called him “the ultimate Giant.” In 1960, a pulverizing hit by the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik (who also died this year, at 89) left Gifford with a head injury so severe he didn’t return until 1962.

For many, though, Gifford was the calming center of “Monday Night Football.” On one side of Gifford was Howard Cosell, all bombast and grandiloquence. On the other was Don Meredith, ladling out heaping servings of country corn. It was left to Gifford to return everyone to Planet Football.

Gifford died at 84 and his family said he showed signs of degenerative brain disease and hoped he “might be an inspiration for others suffering from this disease.”

DEAN SMITH

If college basketball had a Mount Rushmore, a place in the mountainside would be carved for Dean Smith.

He was the soul of basketball at North Carolina and he died at 83. He led the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, won national titles in 1982 and 1993. He created the Four Corners offense, earned an Olympic title in 1976 and coached some of the best. Michael Jordan said he loved Smith for always being there when he needed him.

Smith would surpass Adolph Rupp for the most coaching victories in men’s Division I, a mark now held by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Smith was among the first to recruit blacks in the South and helped spur the civil rights movement.

Roy Williams, the current Tar Heels coach, called Smith the “perfect picture of what a college coach should have been.”

JERRY TARKANIAN

He was a sketch artist’s dream: the basset-hound eyes, the bald head, the forlorn look and, of course, the towel clamped between his teeth.

Jerry Tarkanian built a basketball power at UNLV, a dazzling piece of the Strip’s high wattage. His legal entanglements with the NCAA spanned his career at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State. Tarkanian long felt the NCAA pounced on small schools and let the big boys off easy.

He drew respect from coaches and love from players. But the NCAA sang no songs for “Tark the Shark.” He won a $2.5 million settlement in a lawsuit, but the sting remained.

Tarkanian preached fierce defense and an amped-up offense that at UNLV featured Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. The Rebels played in four Final Fours and won the 1990 title.

Tarkanian died at 84, three days after Dean Smith, and Vegas dimmed its lights for a headline act.

YOGI BERRA

After all the tributes — his decency, his dignity, his wit (intentional or otherwise) — it’s important to never lose sight of this: What a player he was.

Yogi Berra played 19 seasons and was the American League MVP in 1951, 1954 and 1955. He played on 10 World Series winners and made 18 straight All-Star teams. His leap into Don Larsen’s arms after the perfect game in the 1956 World Series is a moment frozen in baseball history.

Berra, No. 8, with that welcoming mug of a face, died at 90. He managed for the whirlwind that was George Steinbrenner, and Berra always had the right thing to say. He was the country’s every-man philosopher, a pinch hitter for Mark Twain and Will Rogers: “You can observe a lot by watching”; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”; “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Said Hall of Famer Cal Ripken: “When Yogi spoke, everyone was quiet and hung on every word. He owned the room.”

by Brad Gilbert,

bgilbert@civitasmedia.com

Reach Brad Gilbert at 580-482-1221 ext. 2076

Reach Brad Gilbert at 580-482-1221 ext. 2076

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