Happy New Year!
We begin 2013 with a look back at 2012, and some of the memorable sports figures who left us during the year.
A few have already been profiled in this space, such as Jack Twyman, "Moose" Skowron, and Steve Sabol.
A few other deaths aroused enough media coverage as to render any further mention superfluous, such as Joe Paterno, Junior Seau, Alex Karras, and Gary Carter.
But what about someone like Don Carter? He was known as "Mr. Bowling" back when that sport enjoyed immense popularity and regular television coverage.
Through the ’50’s and ’60’s, Carter dominated his sport. A six-time Bowler of the Year, he also played a major role in forming the PBA. Carter envisioned a bowling tour similar to golf’s PGA tour.
The first PBA tour, in 1959, consisted of three tournaments. Within three years, the tour included 32 events. Chris Schenkel and Billy Welu soon hosted weekly coverage on ABC.
But here’s the true measure of Carter’s stature. In 1964, Ebonite, the bowling ball manufacturer, signed Carter to the first million dollar endorsement contract in American sports history.
Then there was Gail Harris, a first baseman for the New York Giants (’55-’57) and Detroit Tigers (’58-’60.) In those six years, Harris hit .240 with 51 homers and 190 RBI. Modest numbers, indeed. His best year was ’58, when he hit 20 homers, had 83 RBI, and hit .273.
But on September 21, 1957, Harris had a big day, hitting two homers and knocking in seven runs as the Giants beat the Pirates, 9-5. In that game, Gail Harris hit the last homer ever struck by a New York Giant.
Baseball also lost Lee MacPhail. At 95, he was the oldest member of the Hall of Fame. He spent 45 years as a baseball executive, including a stretch as American League president (1974-1983.) In that capacity, he ruled in favor of George Brett in the famous Pine Tar Game.
Along with his father, Larry, the MacPhails comprise the only father-son combination in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
From 1961 to 1995, the most familiar words in auto racing were, "And now, let’s go down to the pits and Chris Economaki."
For 23 years on ABC and another decade on CBS, Economaki, sporting his ever-present headset, would strain to be heard above the cacophony near the track. It was Economaki who taught us just what went on during those frenzied pit stops.
But here’s a stunning longevity stat for you: he founded National Speed Week News, which became the bible of motor racing. His column appeared there for 74 years.
We said goodbye to the best coach in Texas history, Darrell Royal. In 20 seasons, from ’57 through’76, Royals teams posted a 167-47-5 record and won three national championships.
Royal, ever the quote machine as well, advised coaches to "dance with the one who brung ya" and noted of Heisman trophy winner Earl Campbell, "I don’t know if Earl’s in a class by himself, but it sure don’t take long to call roll."
Teofilo Stevenson, perhaps the greatest amateur boxer of all time, won heavyweight gold medals in the ’72, ’76, and ’80 Olympics. The Cuban was the first to win three golds in the same weight division.
Offered millions to defect and fight Muhammad Ali, Stevenson told Sports Illustrated in 1974, "No, I will not leave my country for one million dollars, or for much more than that. What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?"
Two weeks ago, Tech great Larry Morris passed away. The Decatur native earned his way into the college football Hall of Fame with his sparkling play for the Jackets from ’51 through’54.
But his greatest day on a football field might have been December 29, 1963. On that day, his Bears played the Giants for the NFL championship.
The Bears ferocious defense, the best in the league, was led by linebackers Morris, Bill George, and Joe Fortunato; massive defensive end Doug Atkins; and backs Roosevelt Taylor and Richie Petibon.
They faced a Giants offense which led the league in scoring, as quarterback Y. A. Tittle threw a record 36 touchdown passes.
In the first quarter, Tittle threw another one, to Frank Gifford, for a 7-0 lead. On the play, Morris was tripped by Joe Morrison. Instead of going down, Morris tucked and rolled, plowing into Tittle’s planted front leg.
Tittle continued to play, but was never the same. "He played on one leg," Giants coach Allie Sherman said after the game. "It’s a shame. I think we would have cut them up a little better if he had not been hurt."
As it was, Tittle went on the throw five interceptions. The first, on a screen pass, was grabbed by Morris and returned 61 yards to the five yard line. That set up the Bears first score. They would go on to win the last championship for the team founder, Papa Bear George Halas, 14-10.