One day last week (or two weeks ago…or yesterday…who really knows), we were desperately searching for something, anything, to watch and MLB Network was showing a rerun of a Baltimore Orioles game from 1995. At first, we thought, “Wow, we’re already at the point where an Orioles-Angels game from 25 years ago is the last thing left to put on television.” Then it hit me…2,131! If 2,131 when combined with the Baltimore Orioles doesn’t make sense to you, then, well, you’re probably in good company with the other 6 people who will read this. But, for any Orioles fan, it’s all about the Iron Man, Cal Ripken, Jr.
Fortuitously, we turned on the game in the top of the 5th inning, and three outs later, it was official. Cal Ripken had broken the unbreakable record – Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. The replay of the 22-minute ovation Ripken received was exactly what Mrs. Hangover wanted to spend her time watching, but it was the best 22 minutes of broadcasting Chris Berman has ever done. Interestingly, he also didn’t say a single word for the entire 22minutes. Did I mention the ovation lasted 22 minutes?
Anyway, this experience got us thinking, which is never a good thing. Who were our favorite athletes from our youth? Great question. Let’s write a blog about it.
For the sake of this discussion, “youth” will be categorized as pre-2000, as that’s the year we finished high school. It would have been 1999, but we managed to take a victory lap in high school.
Baseball – Cal Ripken, Jr.
We’re hoping some context clues gave this away, but with our readers, we’ve learned never to assume anything. Anyway, Cal was our hero – we had an Iron Man poster on the wall in our bedroom. History may have relegated him to just being the guy that shows up every day, but one can make a very convincing argument that he’s the best short stop ever. A quick recap of his accomplishments: Rookie of the Year, 2x MVP, World Series Champ, 19-time All-Star, 2 Gold Gloves, 8 Silver Slugger Awards, 3,184 hits, 431 home runs, and he ultimately played in 2,632 consecutive games. That’s 16 straight seasons. That’s not just during our youth, that’s the entirety of our youth. More importantly than that, after the strike killed the 1994 season, we argue that Ripken setting this record finally brought the fans back to baseball. A guy showing up every day, doing his job and doing it well. God Bless America.
Quick aside – our family got tickets to an Orioles game against the Oakland A’s, featuring the Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Our seats were directly behind the visitors on-deck circle. We tried so hard to get Canseco’s autograph, even at one point yelling, “We love Cuba!” We did not get an autograph, and frankly, we’re probably lucky we didn’t get escorted out of the stadium.
Basketball (Pro) – Michael Jordan
Duh. Without an NBA team that we really rallied behind, we decided that the greatest player to ever play basketball would be our favorite player. Ironically, our brother used to rag on us for just picking the best player to be a fan of. Today, if you were to ask my brother his favorite teams, he would tell you the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Braves, UNC Tar Heels, Tennessee Volunteers and whoever from the SEC happens to be playing for the national title. But, yeah, we’re the fair-weather fans. Let’s check to see how those teams fared in the 90s…
Anyway, The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary on the Bulls final season of the Jordan era begins on April 19th. You should watch it.
Basketball (College) – Scott Stapleton, Richmond Spiders
Slightly less famous than Jordan, Stapleton was the closest thing to him in Richmond, VA. Going to Richmond Spiders basketball games in the late 80s provided some of our fondest memories. The Dick Tarrant-coached teams were always good, and in our heads the Robins Center was always packed and the mecca of sports. We were also 8 years old. But Scott Stapleton was the highlight reel – he could do a reverse dunk! The 8-year old Work Hangover was very impressed.
Football (Pro) – Tie, Art Monk, Gary Clark & Ricky Sanders; Washington Redskins
Affectionately known as The Posse (we also had this poster on our wall), Monk, Clark and Sanders were the receiving corps for the Redskins teams we loved growing up. Our first sports-watching memory is the Skins beat the Broncos 42-10 in the Super Bowl in January of 1988. Monk stayed with the team the longest, and if we had to pick just one, it would be him, but man those guys were fun to watch. They were the first trip to all surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark in the same season.
Football (College) – Peter Warrick, FSU
Bear with me on this one. We honestly didn’t really watch a ton of college football growing up – at least not enough to develop strong allegiances. However, our family was given tickets to go to Chapel Hill to see UNC play FSU in the fall of 1999. We were in high school and dreaming of attending UNC. We get to Kenan Stadium as the Heels are preparing to take on #1 Ranked FSU. We hadn’t even finished our first hot dog when FSU was already up 28-0 with two drives lasting less than 2 minutes, a pick six and a Warrick punt return for touchdown. We had never seen anyone run so fast. And four days later he was caught stealing from a Tallahassee Dillard’s department store. Classic FSU. And certainly, a harbinger of our four years of Carolina Football. The only game that ended earlier was the UNC-Duke football game senior year when our buddy Mackey was ejected prior to kickoff. Apparently, using a pompom as a stirrer at 11:45am is a red flag. Who knew?
Fun side note about that FSU team – Anquan Boldin was a freshman on that team as the top-rated quarterback recruit in the country. Quarterback. Unreal.
Hockey – Pavel Bure, Vancouver Canucks
For reasons we cannot explain, we were mesmerized by 1994 Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. It was one of the all-time great Stanley Cup Finals, culminating in the Rangers game 7 win. But, man, we were all in on the Canucks and Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket, was their star. Again, there is no logical explanation aside from Russian hackers, but we loved that guy.
Soccer – Claudio Reyna, USA
The 1994 World Cup in the US was a seminal moment in the childhood of this young soccer prodigy (ed. Note – I don’t think that word means what you think it means). We were captivated by the spectacle of it all and loved watching the great teams from all over the world play a brand of the game we had never seen before. While we loved watching the international sides, the Americans surprising run through the group stage made the tournament extra special, and Claudio Reyna was our favorite American player, with the heartthrob goalie Tony Meola a close second. And yes, that’s the first time the phrase heartthrob goalie has ever been used. Regardless, we had seen Reyna in person playing for UVA and that was our connection. And with apologies to our good friend Woody, we thoroughly enjoyed watching Roberto Baggio and his mullet airmail the crossbar on his penalty kick in that World Cup Final against Brazil.
Wrestling – Randy Macho Man Savage
What? You thought I was going to leave out the sport we watched more than any other in our home in the 80s and 90s?!? There are so many greats – too many to name really – but we have a special connection to Macho Man. At some point in the late 80s, our family were guests of Macho Man at a WWF event in Richmond (our father had helped him get some life insurance…don’t ask). We were in the second row, went backstage to meet many of the wrestlers and saw Macho Man wrestle the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Championship belt. We still cherish the photos from this great night. Oh, wait. Our mom forgot to put film in her camera and there is no photographic evidence. Fortunately, the sights and smells of a late 80s WWF crowd and the Macho Man are burned into my memory that photos aren’t needed. Tetanus shots were needed, but photos weren’t.
We hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. One of the things that makes sports great is the connection you make with people who are complete strangers. The ovation Ripken received on that September night in 1995 was all the evidence you need. On that night, Cal Ripken didn’t break that streak. Every Baltimore Oriole fan, and a whole lot of just plain baseball fans, broke that streak. That’s why the ovation lasted 22 minutes. And the record he broke wasn’t some incredible feat of athleticism, it was simply for showing up to work every day. Granted, work for him is a game. But, no one else in the history of the game showed up for work every day like he did. And we loved him for it.