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In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.

~ Sam Huff                    



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Remembering the struggles of Jackie Robinson
by Thom Loverro
Apr 15, 2015 -- 1:13pm
ESPN 980

 

Today, April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in perhaps the most significant moment in sports in the 20th century.

As we celebrate what Jackie did and remember his accomplishment, it is important to note the hard road he had before he arrived in Brooklyn -- like the road through Baltimore in 1946.

When the news that the Dodgers had signed Jackie, it wasn’t well-received in Baltimore, particularly by the minor league Orioles club. Herb Armstrong, the Orioles business manager, came out in favor of a law to prohibit the signing of black players.

When Jackie began the 1946 season with the Dodgers farm club, the Montreal Royals, their last exhibition game before the start of the season was scheduled for Baltimore. International League President Frank Shaughnessy called Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey begging him not to bring Jackie to Baltimore, predicting “rioting and bloodshed. For God’s sake, Branch, don’t let that colored boy go to Baltimore. There’s a lot of trouble brewing down there…the people are up in arms in Baltimore.”

Jackie played in the game on a Saturday night in Baltimore. There were calls for a boycott, and only 3,000 showed up. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, was there, sitting behind the Royals dugout, and she heard this: “Here comes that nigger son of a bitch. Let’s give it to him now.” Rachel later said it was the worst abuse she had ever heard, and she feared for Jackie’s safety. Rachel Robinson cried that night in her hotel room, wondering if Jackie should abandon his quest to be the first black player to break the color line.

On another trip to Baltimore, during a regular season game, a fight broke out between teams on the field on the final play of the game. Though Jackie was in the clubhouse, Orioles fans were determined to get him, and they surrounded the exits from the clubhouse. One of his teammates, Johnny “Spider” Jorgenson, said the fans were yelling, “Come out here Robinson, you son of a bitch. We know you’re up there. We’re going to get you,” according to Jules Tygiel’s book, “Jackie Robinson And His Legacy.”

Jackie heard the same kind of abuse when the Royals came back to Baltimore in August of that season. Orioles manager Tommy Thomas yelled to the Royals players, “You let him in and they’ll all be coming now. You’ll all be out of a job.” Legendary Afro-American sportswriter Sam Lacy said the stands were filled with people “who came for the sole purpose of booing him.”

Today, we cheer him and everything he represents.


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Remembering Dean Smith -- Behind The Scenes With Lefty Driesell and Charlie Scott
by Thom Loverro
Feb 14, 2015 -- 11:54am
ESPN 980

No one competed with the late, great North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith more than former Maryland head coach Lefty Driesell -- going back to the days when Lefty coached at Davidson before he came to College Park.

They competed in games, and they competed for players -- one in particular, a historic player named Charlie Scott, who would become the first black scholarship athlete at North Carolina in 1967. He should have been playing for Lefty at Davidson.

I sat down last year and did some extensive interviews with Lefty. Here is what he told me about Dean and Charlie Scott, who remains close to Lefty, particularly when Smith suffered from dementia in his final years:

"Charlie calls me a lot now. He says I’m his coach now, you know, because Dean had dementia. His son plays at Ohio State. I’ve talked to his son once or twice. He wanted me to talk to his son. I heard about Charlie, someone called me and said, 'Lefty, there’s a kid over here named Charlie Scott who can really play, an African-American kid, who can really play.'

"So I went to see him play against Hillside in Durham, where John Lucas played. I tell you, Charlie could play. He was a great player. He was at Lawrenceburg Institute. He was second in his class. At Davidson we had an early admission. It’s hard to get into Davidson. If you were a real good student with high college board scores, you could apply early, September of your senior year or whatever. If you got accepted, then you didn’t have to wait until March. You had to be an outstanding student.

"Charlie applied for early admission and got in. You had to put $100 deposit down to make sure you were going to come. He did, and he hung around my team. We were good. We were probably ranked higher than North Carolina. I think we were second and they were third, or vice versa. He hung around my players all year long. He came to all our games. But after people heard about him, after we signed him, they started sneaking in there…not just Dean, but Wake Forest had him for a visit…the principal at his school I heard, was the one who pushed him toward North Carolina. So that’s where he went.

"Charlie wound up beating us in the Elite Eight on a last second shot. I probably never would have left Davidson if I had Charlie there. North Carolina lost to UCLA and Lew Alcindor. Charlie was kind of upset because Dean ran the four corners the whole game, and Charlie didn’t like that. Or they held the ball, I don’t know.

"I always liked Charlie. He would tell me, if it wasn’t for you coach, nobody would know me, because I was the first one that spotted him, signed him and everything, and then people started watching him play."
 


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A Tribute To "Mr. Cub"
by Thom Loverro
Jan 28, 2015 -- 12:24pm
ESPN 980

Ernie Banks was baseball royalty, and his passing on Jan. 23, saddened not just the sports world but anyone who ever got a chance to listen to the man who spread sunshine wherever he went.

He was one of the greatest players of his era, with 512 career home runs with the Chicago Cubs, and hit 40 or more home runs five times as a shortstop.

What people don't realize is that Banks -- and not Frank Robinson -- was technically the first African-American to manage in the major leagues.

In 1973 -- two years before Robinson was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians -- Banks, a coach on the Cubs staff, took over the team in a 2-2 tie in the 11th inning  against the San Diego Padress when Cubs manager Whitey Lockman was ejected.

Lockman handed the lineup to Banks, and an African-American manager was officially calling the shots in a regular season major league baseball game for the first time.

Banks' record as a manager? 1-0.

"I picked Joe Pepitone to face a left-handed pitcher. ... He's a left handed hitter, and he got the hit to win the game," Banks told Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, recalling the historic game. "Then I brought in Bill Bonham, a right-handed pitcher who didn't do very well during the season and most of the pitching coaches didn't like him. I did, and he came in and saved the game."

There was no particular notice of the significance of the moment.

"I shook everybody's hands in the clubhouse," Banks said. "After it was over, they didn't congratulate me, nobody congratulated me, and so I congratulated myself. 'Thank you Ernie, you did a wonderful job.' "


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Happy 80th birthday Elvis!
by Thom Loverro
Jan 08, 2015 -- 4:09pm
ESPN 980

Elvis was a big football fan. In an interview conducted at a World Football League game between the Memphis Southmen and the Charlotte Hornets in 1975 — what does that tell you about how big a football fan Elvis was? — the King spoke of his love for the game. “I enjoy rugged sports,” Elvis said. “I’m not knocking people who like golf and tennis and other things. But I like rugged sports such as boxing, football, karate and things like that.

“I have a great ambition to play football,” Elvis continued. “I’ve always had and still have, believe it or not. The thing I keep up with most is professional football. I know all the players. I know their numbers and who they play for. I watch all the games I can. I get the films from the teams themselves if I can. Next to the entertainment thing and music, football is the thing that I enjoy best.”

Elvis was good friends with Cleveland Browns guard Gene Hickerson, who would send Elvis Browns’ game films which he would break down. He drew up his own plays, some of which have been sold at auctions.

Elvis loved playing sandlot football. He sponsored a team in Memphis called the “Elvis Presley Enterprises Football Team” and had jerseys made up with everybody’s name on the back.


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Not Fun For Anyone: Sending Fans An "Off Season" Message
by Thom Loverro
Dec 19, 2014 -- 11:31am
ESPN 980

Who knows what the Washington Redskins will do to defend their off season championship.

Trade for Jim Harbaugh? Draft Jameis Winston?

In reality, there may not be many options for off season splashes. Jay Gruden is in the first year of a five year contract, and reports are he will be back for next season. This team has so many personnel needs that drafting a quarterback with their high first round pick may not be an option -- especially if there are people in this organization who believe one of the three quarterbacks on the roster can still actually play the position in the NFL.

So what should this franchise do to show its fans that they would stand for the sort of debacle that has been the 2014 season?

Team president Bruce Allen should take a page from his late father, former Redskins coach George Allen, to send a message to fans.

Following the 1973 season, after Washington went 10-4, finishing second in the NFC East, and then losing to the Minnesota Vikings 27-20 in the first round of the playoffs, George Allen declared there would be no team picture of the 1973 squad. "If this team doesn't make it to the NFC championship game, it doesn't deserve its picture taken," Allen wrote in a team memo.

Well, he didn't stick to that policy in future seasons, but the notion may be the right one. But let's not stop at a team picture.

Next year, at the Redskins annual Welcome Home Luncheon, declare that there will be no offensive or defensive player of the year. Stand up there and say nobody on this 2014 team is deserving of any award.
 
While you’re at it, put a padlock on the practice bubble and make them practice outside. Fire the highly-touted chef and tell them to shop for their own food. And maybe get rid of the charter flights and fly coach.
 
You get the idea. It’s been painful for Redskins fans. It might be easier for them if they knew it was painful for everyone.
 


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The Trade Bowl
by Thom Loverro
Dec 05, 2014 -- 2:50pm
ESPN 980

Last week it was the draft bowl -- Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III, and Redskins fans wondering what might have been if the Indianapolis Colts had fallen in love with Griffin over Luck for the first pick of the 2012 draft.

This week it's the trade bowl -- watching the depth that that St. Louis Rams acquired out of the deal that sent the number two pick of that draft to Washington to give the Redskins a shot at Griffin.

Draft bowl, Trade bowl -- the Redskins come out on the losing end no matter what.

The Rams got the Redskins first round picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014 -- and a second pick in the 2012 draft. Their front office took those four picks and, through trades, turned them into eight players -- five of them starters. One backup running back ran for 1,000 yards last season. Only two of the eight proved to be busts.

No matter what happens Sunday at FedEx Field, the Rams won the Trade Bowl with that deal, as Griffin has gone from the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2012 to an unhappy backup quarterback now.

Before Washington can start winning games on the field, they have to start winning these boardroom battles -- the Draft Bowl, the Trade Bowl -- the personnel moves that produce a winner on the field. They have to draft better. They have to make more successful trades.

They have to start winning before one single player ever steps on the field.


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