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Three Great Super Regional Games

Major league baseball has not been on my radar screen and won't be until September 1. Instead, I've spent my spring watching three sports:

  • NBA final month of regular season (because the Pelicans were in the running for a playoff spot, which they earned) and the playoffs
  • NCAA baseball
  • NCAA softball

In softball, my two alma maters met in the Super Regionals in Tallahassee for the second straight season.

  • Last year, the Tigers dropped the opener, then won the next two to earn at trip to Oklahoma City.
  • This year, the opposite occurred. LSU won the first game but lost the next two.
  • The Seminoles then won the College World Series, again coming back from an opening night loss.
  • FSU was led by their 3B Jessie Warren. She clouted an incredible 83 HRs in her four-year college career. The Noles played 262 games during her career. So she hit a HR every three games on average. Project that pace across a 162-game MLB season and you get an average of 54 HRs per season.
  • Jessie made an awesome game-saving play in the first game of the three-game finals against Washington. With FSU leading 1-0 in the bottom of the 7th (the last inning in softball), the Huskies had a runner on 1st with none out. The batter bunted. The ball blooped straight toward the mound. Expecting the bunt, Warren had been coming in from 3rd and dove full length and caught the ball in the webbing of her glove just before it hit the ground. From her knees, she threw to 1st to double the runner.
  • Warren signed a two-year contract with the U.S. Specialty Sports Association to play fastpitch softball professionally.

The last two nights I've watched three incredible baseball games.

  • Sunday night I watched two Super Regional Game 3s simultaneously - one on the Internet, the other on TV. Both games went into extra innings.
  • Washington led home-standing Cal State Fullerton 3-1 going into the top of the 9th. But the Titans rallied for three runs to take the lead only to have Washington plate a run in the bottom of the inning.
  • Fullerton again went ahead on a homer in the top of the 10th. But the Huskies again rallied and this time scored two on an infield hit and a sac fly to earn their first trip to Omaha.

The parallel game took place in Nashville between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

  • This game was tied into the top of the 9th when State scored three to lead 6-3.
  • But don't celebrate too fast! The Commodores tied the contest on a solo HR and a two-run jack.
  • Neither team scored in the 10th before the Bulldogs got four in the 11th to win.

The final Super Regional game, Auburn @ Florida, also went extra innings.

  • The Tigers matched the Gators' vaunted pitching staff, holding Florida to just two runs.
  • But in the bottom of the 10th, Austin Langworthy, a left-handed batter, smacked a line drive toward the RCF wall. RF Steven Williams ran over and reached up for the ball. However, the ball didn't hit in the pocket of his mitt but instead bounced off his glove and over the fence. Just like that, instead of the first out, the game ended.
  • Much has been made, rightly, over the video of the high school P in Minnesota who struck out the batter for the final out to advance in the playoffs, then went to home plate to hug the batter, who had been his friend from childhood. (Watch the second video on the linked page to see just the final out.)
  • But a similar situation occurred in the Auburn game. After muffing the catch on the game-winner homer, Williams squatted down, literally crestfallen, with a blank look as he tried to comprehend what just happened. He looked in at the Florida team dog piling on the mound in celebration of their fourth straight trip to Omaha. It appeared that he was reluctant to join his teammates after costing them the game. But Auburn players ran out to hug him and console him.
  • The game included another memorable play. Florida scored its second run on a trick play. With runners on 1st and 3rd and a left-handed P on the mound, the man on 1st took off for 2nd as the P went into his stretch on the rubber. But the runner intentionally stumbled and fell down. That caused the P to step off the rubber and prepare to throw to 1st. In the meantime, the man on 3rd took off for home. By the time the P realized what was happening and threw to the plate, the run scored. (The video link for the homer above also contains this play.)

All in all, it was two nights of the drama that only baseball can provide.

From the Golden Archives
1943 NFL Championship Game

The two best QBs in the league, Sammy Baugh of the Redskins and Sid Luckman of the Bears, were set to square off for the title. But plans got derailed.

Read the account from years ago that has been updated in the more mature Golden style, with several dozen pictures added.

Russell Ford's New Pitch
Tales from the Deadball Era, by Mark S. Halfon (2014)
The offense got its first break when a cork-centered "lively" baseball replaced the old "dead" one. League officials secretly experimented with the new ball at the end of the 1910 season but officially introduced it in 1911 with immediate results. In the Ame­rican League alone batting averages jumped thirty points (the largest leap in a single season), and .300 hitters tripled. And then there were the .400 hitters. Rookie Shoe­less Joe Jackson batted .408, although it was not good enough to win the batting title. Cobb hit .420 and followed that with a .409 average in 1912. Baseball's hitting frenzy, though, did not last; pitchers had something up their sleeves.
A previously undetected freak delivery surfaced that helped end the latest batting surge, although serendipity rather than a response to the lively ball led to its dis­covery. As right-hander Russell Ford warmed up for a minor league game in 1907, he lost control of a pitch that bruised the baseball when it struck the grandstand. His next delivery dropped so sharply that it stunned catcher Ed Sweeney. Ford threw one more pitch, and again the ball broke erratically. The young hurler stumbled upon what would become a devastating weapon, but he chose not to use it at the time and wisely kept it a secret.
broke into the Major Leagues with the Highlanders in 1909 and pitched one game before New York demoted him to its Jersey City Minor League club, where the now twenty-six-year-old decided to take advantage of his earlier discovery. "I made a sci­entific study of the ball and its freak moves, and as I was the only pitcher who even knew that it existed, I had the field to myself, he said." Ford attached a piece of emery paper to his now "loaded" glove and smoothed a small surface of the baseball, which caused it to move in ways that made the spitball look tame by com­parison. Whereas the spitter had one downward break, what became the "emery ball" had four breaks—in, out, up (as much as a foot), and down (as much as two feet). The formerly unimpress­ive hurler gradually gained control of the pitch, making it break in whatever direction he wanted, depending on the location of the scuff and position of the grip. It earned him a trip back to the Majors.
Ford put on a show in 1910 in one of baseball's most remarkable rookie seasons. He won his first eight games, including four shutouts, and appeared unhittable. Ford "has developed into the best pitcher in the big leagues," the Atlanta Constitution wrote. Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Three Finger Brown pitched that season. Ford's performance stunned observers, but only Sweeney and a hand­ful of trusted teammates knew the secret to his success. Everyone else thought that he had developed a new variety of the spitball, which one writer described as the "freakiest of all freak deliveries." Ford finished the year at 26-6 with eight shutouts.
Worried that others might learn about the pitch, Ford took special precautions to avoid detection. Instead of sewing a piece of emery paper into his glove as he had done be­fore, he made a leather ring with a small rubber disc to which he attached a piece of emery paper. Ford put the ring on his middle finger and slipped it into his glove until it came opposite a hole in the glove (a common affliction of the day). Ford also continued to place his fingers to his mouth to give the impression that he was throwing the spit­ball, which he rarely used anymore. Despite his best efforts, though, another pitcher soon learned the secret to his success.
Right-hander Cy Falkenberg went an unimpressive 76-83 for three teams in nine seasons and found himself languishing in the Minors in 1911, but good fortune smiled on the struggling "slow ball" pitcher when second baseman Earle Gardner, one of Ford's former teammates, informed him about how a piece of sandpaper could trans­form his career. Falkenberg listened intently, and after gaining control of the new pitch, he mowed down opponents and received a call back to the Majors in 1913. Astonishingly, he won his first ten games. Senators manager Griffith and White Sox coach William "Kid" Gleason suspected that Falkenberg had tampered with the baseball and examined it when he pitched but did not notice the almost invisible smoothed spot. Falkenberg won twenty-three games that year, second best in the league behind Walter Johnson.

L-R: Russell Ford, Cy Falkenberg, Ray Keating
Ford and Falkenberg were the only pitchers using the emery ball, but that changed in 1914 after they jumped to the Federal League. Former teammates of the pair be­gan revealing their secret to friends, and the word spread. Soon virtually every team had at least one of their own with a supply of emery paper. League officials, however, had been unaware of the latest freak delivery until a couple of hurlers got sloppy near the end of the season. Yankee right-hander Ray Keating learned of the pitch from teammate Sweeney and began using it but found himself in an awkward posi­tion on September 12 after Athletics second baseman Eddie Collins, who seldom fanned, struck out badly in the first inning. In his second at bat,
Collins stood motionless. He never took his bat from his shoulder. He studied Keating's actions carefully and when Umpire Connolly de­clared him out on strikes for the second time, Collins insisted that the arbitrator make an examination of the ball. The umpire did so and dis­covered a large rough spot on the leather sphere, which Collins insisted made it possible for Keating to get the unusual break on the ball. He also requested that Connolly examine the glove used by Keating, as he insisted he was creating the rough spot by means of a substance concealed in the glove. Connolly did so and, much to his surprise, dis­covered a piece of emery paper concealed therein. . . . That was the public birth of the emery ball, wrote umpire and syndicated columnist Billy Evans.
One day after the Keating incident, umpire Charles Rigler caught Cubs right-hander Jimmy Lavender throwing the illegal pitch. Lavender cleverly, he thought, attached a piece of sandpaper to the inside of his uniform and after turning to center field reached down his pants whenever he wanted to scuff the baseball. Phillies manager Red Dooin grew suspicious and asked Rigler to search Lavender. As the umpire approached the mound, Lavender ran toward right field and handed the sandpaper to second baseman Heinie Zimmerman, but Phillies third baseman Hans Lobert had been in close pur­suit and retrieved the incriminating evidence. Rigler kept the baseball to turn over to authorities but allowed Lavender to stay in the game. Without his cheat sheet, he surrendered eight runs, including three homers (two by Gavvy Cravath) over the next four innings. Shortly thereafter, the three Major Leagues outlawed the emery ball.

L-R: Eddie Collins, Jimmy Lavender, Heinie Zimmerman
The Littlest Pass-Master
Strange But True Football Stories, Zander Hollander (1967)
Even in his padded suit and helmet he didn't look very big, standing among the giants who surrounded him in the Philadelphia Eagles' huddle. But little Davey O'Brien, all 5 feet 7 inches of him, was a brilliant and resourceful field general, who knew that it took more than size to be a winner. Even more, he was a gifted and daring passer. On this day of December 1, 1940 he was playing his farewell game in professional football, and he wanted to leave something behind for people to talk about after he had gone. He did.

This was O'Brien's second year with the Eagles. It was also his final year and he was playing his farewell game in professional football. Before the game, he had announced that he was retiring to work for the FBI.

O'Brien was concluding a remarkable football career that had begun at Texas Christian University. There, he broke almost every Southwest Conference passing record and led the Horned Frogs to two national titles in a row. In his senior year he won both the Heisman and Maxwell awards as the outstanding collegiate football player of 1938.

Davey O'Brien, TCU

But despite his feats, he didn't think he would succeed in pro football. He was too small, everybody said. Even Davey had to agree, and at first he was reluctant to sign a pro contract. But the Eagles managed to change his mind. In his rookie year, he was the NFL's second-leading passer, was named to the all-league team, and established three new passing marks, including 21 completions in one game.

As a result, O'Brien was well known to football fans when he came on the field to direct the hapless Eagles against the might of the Washington Redskins. The Eagles had won only one game all season and were mired in last place. The Red­skins were seeking the victory that would assure them of first place in the Eastern Division of the NFL. Many fans regarded the game as the mismatch of the year.

A capacity crowd of 25,833 jammed Washington's Griffith Stadium by kickoff time. Despite the uneven match, neither side could score in the first quarter. The Eagle line was outweighed and outrushed by the Redskin forwards, who threw back the Eagle runners for more yards than they could gain. So, early in the second period, little Davey took to the air. He began to fill the air with more passes than any pro-football crowd had ever seen before. Not even the dynamic Redskins seemed ca­pable of stopping him. The Redskins did manage to break through on the score­board, however, on a 27y reverse ... The Redskins missed the extra point and led, 6-0.

But O'Brien did not relax his passing attack. To elude the onrushing tacklers, he faded back as far as 15 and 20y behind the line of scrimmage, picked out his re­ceivers and completed his passes. And when he couldn't find anyone free, he ran with the ball. On two successive plays he gained 34 yards on runs, nearly twice as many as the rest of the team would make on the ground all day. He mounted a drive that carried the Eagles 64y in five plays, and seemed headed for the tying touchdown when the halftime gun went off. In all, Davey had completed 11 passes for 112 yards in the first half.

That was only a warmup for what was to come. He continued his assault in the second half. Despite the growing pressure being put on him by the Redskin linemen, Davey managed to connect on passes with ridiculous ease. He passed wide to the side and he passed deep; he threw from behind his own goal line and he threw on the dead run, riddling the Redskins defense with his slingshot passes.

He was the little David against the Goliaths of the league, a sprite standing up against the six-foot, 230-pounders who seemed to be trying to separate his head from his shoulders Often enough they got to him and smashed the little man to the ground. But each time he would pick himself off the turf and go back to work. Every now and then a Redskin lineman would help him to his feet, apologizing for having knocked him down.

Meanwhile, the Redskins, masterminded by Sammy Baugh, who had preceded O'Brien at TCU, scored on Dick Todd's plunge from the four-yard line. With Bob Masterson's kick the Redskins now led 13-0. Still, O'Brien would not quit. Playing all the way on offense and defense, he stimulated another Eagle drive. He engi­neered two drives in the third period, one of them for 68y in 12 plays, and another for 66y in five plays. But the Eagles still couldn't get the ball across the Redskin goal line.

The Eagles' predicament looked even gloomier in the fourth quarter when Baugh, an excellent punter, quick-kicked, and the ball traveled 85 yards before it was down­ed on the three-yard lien. But O'Brien charged up the Eagles once more. He began pumping passes immediately. His primary target was left end Don Looney, who was to catch a record 14 passes for 180 yards during the day. In 15 plays, he drove the Eagles all the way, finally scoring with a 13y pass to FB Frank Emmons. The try for the extra point was blocked, and the Eagles trailed, 13-6.

Time was running out now, but not O'Brien's courage. As soon as the Eagles got the ball again, O'Brien began one last drive that carried them down to the Red­skins' 33. He was still flinging passes into the end zone, trying for the trying score while being rushed by six or seven men at once. But with 17 seconds showing on the clock, and O'Brien's endurance waning, Coach Bert Bell took him out of the game. He had played for 59 minutes and 43 seconds of a grueling football game, and he had thrown an unprecedented total of 60 passes. And not one of them was inter­cepted! Overall, Davey completed 33 of his passes for 316y.

As Davey came to the sidelines, a dejected little figure in a mud-caked jersey with the numeral 8 on it, everyone in the ballpark stood up and cheered for his remarka­ble demonstration of courage and skill. Even the Redskin players openly applauded him as he walked off the football field for the last time. The Eagles were beaten, 13-6, but not vanquished.

Davey's performance that day remains an indelible memory, even though most of his marks have since been erased. But the one that still stands is his 60 passes.

[The record was finally broken by Joe Namath, who threw 62 for the Jets against the Baltimore Colts in 1970, three years after this story was written.]

O'Brien with his mates after his last NFL game

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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