Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Sports Heroes

Growing up during the 1960's and 70's I was fascinated by sports by the 4 major sports and their athletes. Living in Maine, I listened to the Boston area teams on radio, watched them on television (although I was a New York Giants fan in football --- at the time they were the CBS team with a northeast affiliate), and occasionally attended Boston Red Sox games. I developed an affinity with 3 major stars of the day in baseball, football, and hockey and was a fan of the Boston Celtics, though never really had a favorite player. The 3 players are in their respective Halls of Fame and one is arguably the greatest player his sport has ever witnessed...okay that's debatable.

That being said, here are my sports heroes growing up in ascending order:

3.Fran Tarkenton --- Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Pro Football Hall of Fame

In my opinion, no quarterback in the history of the NFL had the mobility, escape ability and vision “Sir Francis” had. I remember watching this smallish Giant quarterback make defensive lineman look silly as he weaved in every conceivable direction to escape their pass rush. After many great escapes, Fran often completed a long for a big gain or the occasional touchdown.

Fran was also the unquestioned leader of the Vikings during his second stint, leading the team to 3 Super Bowl appearances although he never won a championship. He was selected to play in 9 Pro Bowls and was ans All-Pro 1st or second teamer on 3 occasions. Upon retirement, Tarkenton was the NFL's all time leader completions, passing yardage, and touchdown passes.

Today, Fran owns a plethora of companies from software for small business to financial services for business to Tarkenton Sports, Fran's online store.

2. Bobby Orr --- Defenseman, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Hockey Hall of Fame

With apologies to Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr is the greatest player in the rich history of the National Hockey League. Orr revolutionized the sport with his brilliant skating ability, uncanny awareness, and unbelievable puck control. Being able to watch on television, nobody was comparable to the great number 4. I can't count how many times Bobby would rush the puck the length of the ice, pirouette around defenders, make pinpoint passes to teammates, and make incredible defensive plays. He could actually do all those in the same shift!

And yes, I was watching on television when Bobby scored “The Goal” on Sunday May 10th, 1970 (Mother's Day). I recall the replay as he was tripped into the air and his arms elongated in celebration as the Bruins had won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 29 years. It was a great moment for a 10 year old kid to experience.

I have been told that Orr was not a tough physical player, but Bobby more than held his own. Actually, he was a tremendous fighter. He fought tough guys like Wayne Carleton and Keith Magnuson to name a couple and, if memory serves correctly, started a bench clearing brawl in Philadelphia versus the Flyers before prior to the “Broad Street Bullies” days.

Bobby's records as a defenseman would have been unmatched had it not been for a major knee injury that forced an early retirement. His play however has earned him his own section at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, which I have been blessed to visit.

Today, Orr has an online store where we can buy signed and unsigned memorabilia, including photos of “The Goal”.

1.Carl Yastrzemski --- Left Field, First Base, Third Base, Designated Hitter, Boston Red Sox, Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Yaz” was my sports idol, no doubt about it. I was fortunate to see Carl play as a youngster both at Fenway Park and on television. He was graceful in left field, a decent 1st baseman, a pretty good DH, but a horrible 3rd sacker for the handful of games he played at the hot corner. Incredibly powerful for a man his stature, Yastrzemski had the most vicious uppercut swing the game has ever known. In left field, he played the famed “Green Monster” better than anyone ever has. He could throw runners out at any base as he either lead or was near the lead in outfield assists annually. At the plate, he would hit majestic homeruns off any pitcher and could also hit doubles off the wall at Fenway.

Saying these great things about Carl, I also can remember him dogging it now and then for no apparent reason. Then there's the playoff game versus the hated Yankees in 1978 when “Yaz” fouled out to third baseman Craig Nettles to end the game. I guess one can't have all pleasant memories of their god.

Today, Carl is a roving instructor for the Red Sox in the minor league system. He has also launched his official website (link above) which includes his bio, stats, merchandise, and the text of his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech.

These players were the sports heroes of my youth. Are there any sports heroes today? There are indeed , from Dwyane Wade to Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols to Sidney Crosby, and even Tiger Woods with his ongoing problems is still considered a hero to many. However, I don't believe these sportsmen of today match up to what we had in my days growing up.

Maybe I'm getting old.


Send email to dlafrance2@207me.com

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