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Survive and Advance - 2
The 2018-19 Tigers basketball team continues to drive me crazy.
  • If I didn't know better, I'd think they were doing it on purpose. Doing what? Losing double-digit leads multiple time in a game. That might be called a flair for the dramatic. But it's about to give me and other Tiger fans a heart attack.
  • They played suffocating defense in the first half against Maryland. It was certainly the best they've played on that end of the court all season.
  • But leading 38-23, the Tigers allowed two three-pointers in the last minute of the half to give the Terrapins hope heading to the locker room.
  • At that point, LSU led in points in the paint 20-10 with 20 points off the bench.
  • Mark Turgeon is a veteran coach. So you knew he would make adjustments for the second half. His main change was a zone defense that gave LSU lots of trouble.
  • He admitted he decided to go to the zone after he got a technical foul four minutes into the second half. The two shots by Skyler Mays gave LSU a 15-point lead, matching their highest of the game.
  • But from that point, UM outscored the Tigers 36-23. With LSU clinging to a 55-51 lead, the Terps scored six in a row to take the lead with 5:52. At that point, I was thinking, "The Tigers finally miss Will Wade. We're being outcoached."
  • But never underestimate the heart of a champion. The game was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way with neither side leading by more than 3.
  • Lamont Waters gets national acclaim for his last second basket. But old reliable Skyler Mays shares in the glory. He hit a three-point with 40 seconds on the clock to give the Tigers a 67-64. Interim coach Tony Benford had wisely called for a quick shot on the possession so that LSU would get a last chance if Maryland tied the game.
  • In a continuation of the tremendous three-point shooting in the last minutes that has marked so many NCAA games these last days, Jalen Smith sank a trey at 0:28.
  • You know the rest. Waters milked the clock to insure at least OT. Lamont said afterward, "Coach Benford and the coaching staff and actualy my teammates said they wanted me to take the shot, so we just held the ball out ..."
The #3 Tigers have now lived up to their seeding. Anything beyond this is lagniappe.
Baseball Short Story
The Mick's Sad Journey into Retirement
Marty Appel, Baseball Digest, September/October 2018
Bill Kane, the 28-year-old statistician of the Yankees, enjoyed hunt­ing for stories behind the numbers, even before pocket calculators came along to make the lives of statisticians easier. This was 1968, and Mickey Mantle had begun the season at .302. He had had three straight years under .300, and a fourth was clearly looming, his once-great skills fading.
It was Friday, July 5, and Kane rose from his desk in what had once been Mel Allen's small office and approached the Yankees' public relations team of Bob Fishel and Bill Guilfoile. And me, a rookie hired just that season to answer Mantle's fan mail.
"This weekend," Kane said, "Mickey's lifetime average is going to drop under .300."
Those were painful words to hear. It was the batting average that separated the elite hitters from the good ones - a 'Mendoza line' for the very good. To baseball people, including fans, the single point between .299 and .300 mattered.
"Can't he get back over it?" I asked.
Kane shook his head. "Not going to happen, not the way things are going," he replied.
And, as feared, it happened - that very night - before 16,178 who could not have known. When Mickey went 0-for-4 against Balti­more's Dave McNally, his career batting average - exactly .300 when the game began - slipped to .299996. His lifetime average would stay under .300 for good.
It had been four years since Mickey Mantle was "Mickey Mantle." He was only 33 as the downhill portion of his career began in 1965, and only 36 as he concluded it. He could look around the Yankees clubhouse in 1968 and know few teammates. He was the last player from the Casey Stengel era remaining. He seldom took batting practice. He hurt all over.
His contemporaries - Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks among them - would continue to play into their 40s. But Mick was done at 36, the "Year of the Pitcher" treating him unkindly, as he fell to .298 lifetime.
"That was my biggest regret," he said.
He didn't announce his retirement until spring training of 1969, giving the Yankees an opportunity to still promote him over the winter in their ticket brochures. And even though the team was prepared to pay him another $100,000 for 1969, he knew it was time to say goodbye.
So it was a sad journey to retirement, but his final season, while lacking a "farewell tour" as future players would enjoy, did have its moments.
There was, remarkably, a 5-for-5 performance against the Wash­ington Senators on Memorial Day - only the second of his career. His performance included two home runs, 12 total bases and five RBIs. The New York Times called it "his best day in the big leagues."
It was as improbable as Babe Ruth hitting three home runs for the Boston Braves in one game, in his final days as an aging player, after having done it only once before in the regular season.
But it was downhill from there.
Attention turned to Mantle's climb up the all-time home-run chart. He had begun the season in fifth place with 518. Ruth (714) and Mays (564 and counting) held the top two spots, but third on the list, Jimmie Foxx with 534, was reachable.
On April 26, Mantle tied Ted Williams with 521, and then passed him on May 6 to rank fourth. He tied Foxx on Aug. 22 with his 534th, but by then, there was little left in the tank. He went 25 games without homering, despite swinging like he was back in Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, playing "Home Run Derby," as he had done eight years before for a TV series. But nothing came and frustration mounted.
In Detroit's Tiger Stadium on Sept. 19, Mantle faced Denny McLain, who would win his 31st game of the season that day. In the eighth inning, Detroit led 6-1 and by all accounts, McLain "honored" The Mick by grooving one right to his sweet spot with no one on base. To McLain's satisfaction, Mantle hit it out and could take a sigh of relief as he rounded the bases. He had passed Foxx.
For good measure, as though to remove the asterisk that would, in people's minds, accompany the shot off McLain, he hit one more - the very next day back in Yankee Stadium, a solo homer in the third inning off Boston's Jim Lonborg for No. 536. The last home run for the Commerce Comet. (He hit 266 home runs at Yankee Stadium and 270 on the road.)
The Yankees finished their season in Boston with a weekend series, Sept. 27-29. Mickey went 0-for-3 with a walk on Friday night off Dick Ellsworth and Lee Stange. On Saturday afternoon, again facing Lonborg, he cracked his bat with a first-inning pop-up to SS Rico Petrocelli in short LF. It left him with an embarrassing .237 mark for the season.
Then, he took himself out of the game, packed his gear, and had the clubhouse man get him a taxi to Logan Airport.
Destination? Retirement. He didn't stay until the end of the game, and he wasn't there for the season finale on Sunday.
Perhaps some fans, sensing the end, bought tickets to see him one last time, even though he hadn't announced anything. Perhaps some fans drove up from New York for the finale. But there would be no "last game" fanfare. His season - and his career - had ended.

Dave McNally

Denny McLain

Mantle rounds bases after hitting #535

Jim Lonborg

Survive and Advance
That's the mantra of all the teams in the NCAA Tournament, especially the favorites.
  • LSU certainly didn't play anywhere close to its best game but still managed to hang on to beat Yale 79-74. [PECULIAR STAT: Each of the first three games in Jacksonville Thursday ended with the winning team scoring 79 points.]
  • Once again, Tyler Mays was the key to the Tigers' staying ahead in the last minutes and holding on.
  • I knew that LSU would fritter away most if not all of its 45-29 halftime lead. That's been their M.O. all season. It's always true with the Tigers that the game is never over until it's over.
  • They can't afford carelessness against Maryland. The Terrapins can match the size of the Tigers if not the quickness. The Terps are 206th in the nation in scoring. So they will have to play very good defense to stay in the game.
  • I have the Tigers winning two games in both my pool entries. I'm not backing off that prediction here, but it will be another tough game.
  • Top teams tend to play better in their second NCAA game after doing enough to win in the opener. The Tigers had not played for a week before Yale; so they should be more in their groove Saturday. The flip side of that is Maryland is in the same boat.
Basketball Short Story: An LSU Legend
LSU Alumni Magazine, Spring 2019
Bob Pettit may have played better games in his eleven All-Star seasons in the National Basketball Association - but not when there was so much riding on the outcome. His magical performance against the celebrated Celtics came with the world championship at stake.
Pettit scored 50 points, then a league playoff record, on that April night more than sixty years ago. The St. Louis Hawks needed his prolific effort to beat Boston in Game 6 for the 1958 NBA championship. It was especially satisfying for the Hawks. Red Auerbach's Celtics had edged St. Louis in Game 7 of the 1957 playoffs.
Pettit's offensive gem included a dramatic finish. He scored 19 of the Hawks final 21 points, and he made a goal with 15 seconds remaining for the 110-109 victory.
The former LSU All-America hit on 19 of 34 FG attempts, connected on 12 of 15 FTs, and led St. Louis with 19 rebounds. Only one other member of the Hawks - Cliff Hagan - was in double figures with 15 points.
Boston had five players in double figures led by Bill Sharman with 26, Tom Heinsohn with 23, and Bob Cousy with 15. But Pettit was a relentless scoring machine.

L-R: Bob Pettit in 1958, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn
That game was one of two basketball games that stand out in Pettit's memory. The other game was the 1950 Louisiana high school state championship game in which Baton Rouge High defeated St. Aloysius of New Orleans. "You can't really compare the games," Pettit told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But at the time, winning the state title meant so much."
The Celtics began a remarkable winning sequence in 1957, edging St. Louis 125-123 in a legendary final that lasted two OTs. From 1957 through 1966, Boston won nine of 10 NBA championships. Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks could not be stopped in 1958. For years, Auerbach, the Celtics' coach, would needle Heinsohn about the 1958 Final - the one that got away. "We could have won 10 in a row if you had held Bob Pettit to 48 points."
With Pettit's scoring, rebounding, and leadership, St. Louis rivaled Boston in the NBA finals for four seasons - 1956-57, 1957-58, 1959-60, and 1960-61.
In the first game of the 1957 Finals at the Boston Garden, Pettit scored 37 points as the Hawks upset the Celtics and their emerging star Bill Russell in double OT. Pettit's shot won the third game at St. Louis. He sank two FTs with six seconds remaining in Game 7, forcing OT. However, his 39 points and 19 rebounds in 56 minutes of play were not enough to win in double OT of one of the most exciting games in NBA playoff history.
After Pettit's playing days had ended, Russell offered this tribute: "Bob made 'second effort' a part of the sports vocabulary. He kept coming at you more than any man in the game. He was always battling for position, fighting you off the boards."
Alex Hannum, who took over as the Hawks coach with 31 games left in the 1957 season, said Pettit's attitude was the reason for the club's success. "I was an old-timer when he was a rookie, and I saw him mature into a great player," Hannum told the Houston Chronicle. "He's a winner, whether it was in playing cards or the court. I always said it was no fun to play poker against Bob Pettit, because he always played to win, not just to have fun."
He is considered the great forward of his era.
  • Pettit was an immediate hit, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1955.
  • He was an All-Star in each of his 11 seasons, an All-NBA First Team selection 10 times, and an All-NBA Secon Team pick once.
  • He never finished below seventh in the NBA scoring race. He left the sport with two MVP Awards and an NBA championship ring.
  • He, along with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry Lucas, are the only three players who averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in an NBA season.
  • His 12,849 rebounds were second most in league history at the time he retired.
  • His 16.2 rebounds per game average remains third in all-time NBA standings only to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
  • He was the first NBA player ever to reach the 20,000-point mark.
  • No other retired player in NBA history other than Pettit and Alex Groza (who played only two seasons) has averaged more than 20 points per game in every season they've played. (Note: Michael Jordan averaged exactly 20 points per game in his final season.)
  • Pettit was selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970 and named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.

After retiring from pro basketball at 32, this LSU graduate put his business degree to work. Pettit worked in the banking industry in Baton Rouge and Metairie for 23 years before becoming financial consultant in 1988. He was inducted into the LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction in 1989. He retired from Equities Capital Invesotrs, the company that he co-founded, in 2006.

Football Short Story
For those who miss football.
"Night Train"

"Yesterday's Heroes," Jerry Green, GameDay Saints vs. Falcons January 2, 1983

The bus cost a dime back then, and as it rum­bled through Hollywood the soldier wondered how he would spend the rest of the day. He shuffled around and looked out the window.

There on the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue the soldier saw the sign on the top of the squat office building. It said: "Rams." The soldier jumped up, yanked the cord, and got off the bus.

He was named Richard Lane and came from Texas. He had played some football at a place called Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska. This was during the Korean War, and Richard Lane had been drafted and went to Fort Ord, California. He played football for the Army and kept the documents to prove it.

Now he was off the bus and walking into the squat building, asking to visit the coach. The year was 1952, and Richard Lane to this day relishes re­peating this story.

"I got off the bus," Lane says, "because I had a letter from Joe Stydahar, who was coach of the Rams then, and he had said to stop by. Buck Shaw, who was coaching the San Francisco 49ers, had sent me a letter, too. But he said, 'Come by when you're out of the service,' and Stydahar had just said, "Stop by' at any time. So I got off the bus."

Lane managed to talk himself past the office receptionist and soon found himself in Stydahar's office.
"Where's your scrapbook?" Stydahar said to the young soldier.
"I had told him about my scrapbook in the letter," Lane remembers. "I got the scrapbook and Stydahar looked through it. He signed me for $4,500, and he signed five other ball players out of my scrapbook. All of them played in the army with me."

Of such raw stuff are sporting legends started and nurtured.

Lane made the Rams that season. He intercepted 14 passes (still an NFL record) at a position that years later would be named cornerback in pro football's nomenclature. He played 14 years in the NFL for the Rams, the Chicago Cardinals, and finally the Detroit Lions.

Nine years after his retirement, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The vote was unanimous.

Richard Lane was the square name for the gambling pass defender better (and more romantically) known as Night Train Lane. The nickname is ano­ther episode of the legend.

"My rookie year with the Rams, that was the year the record 'Night Train' came out," Lane says. "I listened to it a lot. I was an offensive end at the start and Tom Fears was playing with the Rams then, so I used to go to his room at training camp for advice. "Every time I went to Fears's room, Ben Sheats - he was another rookie - said: 'Here comes Night Train.' Then I became a defensive back and we played our first exhibition game, and a headline came out after that game: "'Night Train Lane Derails Charley (Choo Choo) Justice.' I tackled him, and he broke his shoulder. I thought the name looked pretty good. It's been a good name."

Derailment was Night Train Lane's game. The visions are imperishable. ... The quarterback throws the football. The receiver is open. The defender, lagging inside, is beaten. Cleanly. Now there is a blur, a quick, precise, calculated movement from the defense. The airborne football fails to reach its destination. Night Train Lane, so swiftly, is between the quarterback and the receiver. It is his football. A winning roll, shoot it all on the seven.

Night Train played the corner as a high-stakes gambler. That was his style, but he wouldn't admit it. "You can't play a guessing game, they'd kill you if you did," he says.

Today Night Train Lane is 54, he plays a lot of golf at NFL Alumni events, shoots in the low 80s. He is working on a dual biographical book about himself and his late wife, singer Dinah Washington. And he has a desk job. He has been director of the Detroit Police Athletic League for seven years.

About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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