Thursday, January 29, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Cardinals Won the NFL Championship


This Sunday night, Super Bowl XLIX, the NFL championship game, will be held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, outside Phoenix.

The host team, for the 2nd time, is the Arizona Cardinals.

Despite playing their home games in a State that didn't even gain Statehood until 1912 -- 103 years ago, within the lifetime of a few people alive today -- the Cardinals claim to be the oldest active professional football team. But they've only been in the Phoenix area since 1988, calling themselves the Phoenix Cardinals until 1994, when they officially made it "the Arizona Cardinals."

From 1960 to 1987, they were the St. Louis Cardinals -- keeping the name even though St. Louis already had a baseball team with the same name. This was once common. The New York Giants were named for the baseball team now in San Francisco. The Pittsburgh Steelers began as the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Washington Redskins were the Boston Redskins, and, before that, the Boston Braves. The Chicago Bears are named after the Chicago Cubs, and the Detroit Lions (sort of) after the Detroit Tigers. There were also, but are no longer, NFL teams named the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cleveland Indians and, yes, a few defunct pro football teams, including 2 that played in the NFL, named the New York Yankees. There was also one named for a long-gone minor-league baseball team, the Minneapolis Millers.

Before that, they were in Chicago. The current Arizona team traces its lineage to 1898, to an organization called the Morgan Athletic Club. Club founder Chris O'Brien negotiated to play at Normal Field on Racine Avenue, and called them the Racine Normals. In 1901, he bought used uniforms from the University of Chicago, whose teams were called the Maroons. But they'd faded, and he said, "That's not maroon. It's cardinal red!" So, because of the uniforms, he changed the name again, to the Racine Cardinals.

O'Brien suspended operations in 1906, revived the team in 1913, suspended operations again in 1918 due to the manpower shortage of World War I, and started again in 1919. Nevertheless, in 1998, the team wore 100th Anniversary patches.

In 1920, O'Brien represented the Cardinals at the NFL's founding meeting in Canton, Ohio. Since another original applicant was the Wisconsin-based Racine Legion, he changed the name again, to the Chicago Cardinals.

The Chicago Cardinals won the NFL Championship, finishing 1st in a single-division League, in 1925, led by quarterback John "Paddy" Driscoll. They won another title in 1947, taking the Western Division Championship, and then beating the Eastern Division Champion Philadelphia Eagles at Comiskey Park. They reached the NFL Championship Game again in 1948, this time losing to the Eagles at a snowy Shibe Park (later renamed Connie Mack Stadium).

Through 11 more seasons in Chicago, 28 seasons in St. Louis, and now 27 season in Arizona, the Cardinals have never won another NFL Championship. They have reached the Playoffs just 7 times, including this past season, winning the NFC Western Division Championship. They have won just 5 Playoff games, 3 of those in the 2008 season, when they reached Super Bowl XLIII, losing to Pittsburgh.

But they have not won a title since December 28, 1947. That was 67 years and 1 month -- and 2 cities -- ago. How long has that been?

*

The stars of the 1947 NFL Champion Chicago Cardinals, coached by former Cardinal star Jimmy Conzelman, were rookie halfback Charley Trippi, quarterback Paul Christman, fullback Pat Harder, and halfback Marshall "Biggie" Goldberg. They became known as "the Million Dollar Backfield" (a name later adopted by the 1950s San Francisco 49ers) and "the Dream Backfield." They also played on defense. It wasn't until the early 1950s that NFL teams began playing some players just on offense and others just on defense.

Trippi is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (which didn't exist until 1963), and Goldberg's Number 99 was retired by the team during their St. Louis period. Of the 4 members of the Dream Backfield, only Trippi is still alive. He is 93 years old. (That's him in the photo at the top of the page.)

Another fine player on the '47 Cards was two-way tackle Stan Mauldin. During a regular-season game with the Eagles in 1948, he suffered a heart attack, and died at age 27. His Number 77 was the first ever retired by the Cardinals.

The Cardinals succeeded their crosstown rivals, the Chicago Bears, as NFL Champions. The other defending champions in December 1947 were the Yankees, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the champions in the inaugural season of the league that would become the NBA, the Philadelphia Warriors, who had beaten the Chicago pro team of the time, the Chicago Stags, in the Finals. Actually, there was another Chicago team, the Chicago American Gears, led by George Mikan, who had played in Chicago for DePaul University, and they won the title of the National Basketball League in 1947. He then moved on to the Minneapolis Lakers. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Louis, who had survived a fight with Jersey Joe Walcott in a widely criticized decision.

The AAFC, the All-America Football Conference, was competing with the NFL from 1946 to 1949. They included a New York Yankees, and the Chicago Rockets, whose biggest star was a receiver named Elroy Hirsch, whose speed got him nicknamed "Crazy Legs." After the AAFC folded, he starred for the Los Angeles Rams. The Rockets pursued Trippi, one in a long line of great running backs from the University of Georgia, but Cardinals owner Charley Bidwill offered Trippi a $100,000 bonus, a staggering sum for the time. (Hank Greenberg had just become the first team-sport athlete in North America ever to get that sum as a salary.)

The AAFC mainly failed because it was so easily dominated by the Cleveland Browns, who won all 4 league titles. The Browns, the 49ers, and an early version of the Baltimore Colts were absorbed into the NFL in 1950.

Up until 1947, there were only 4 officials on an NFL field: The referee, the umpire, the head linesman and the field judge. That season, a back judge was introduced. The line judge was added in 1965, and the side judge in 1978. The 1947 season also introduced the infraction "Illegal use of the hands," and the standard yardage chain, the down box, and the flexible shaft marker were all made mandatory.

The NFL also stopped allowing games on Tuesdays. Through 1969, NFL games were only played on Sundays, so as not to conflict with college football on Saturday afternoons, except when Christmas Day fell on a Sunday. In 1970, we got Monday Night Football. The next year, Playoff games were played on Christmas, and expanded Playoffs meant games on Saturdays. Now, we have Thursday Night Football, Saturday Playoff games, the traditional Sunday 1:00 Eastern Time start, the semi-traditional Sunday 4:25 Eastern Time start, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and, starting this season, London games kicking off, due to the 5-hour time difference between New York and London, on Sunday morning. As if clergymen didn't have enough problems filling their sanctuaries.

The NFL had 10 teams. Most, you would recognize: The Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins. The team in question, the Cardinals, shared Chicago with the Bears (the Bears playing at the Cubs' Wrigley Field on the North Side, the Cardinals sharing Comiskey Park with the White Sox on the South Side). The Rams had moved to Los Angeles a year earlier, making the NFL a coast-to-coast league 12 years before Major League Baseball, 14 years before the NBA, and a whopping 21 years before the NHL.

The 10th team, you not only won't recognize, but both Yankee Fans and Red Sox fans will probably shake their heads over the name: The Boston Yanks. The owner, Ted Collins, wanted a New York Yankees team to play in Yankee Stadium, while the Giants shared the Polo Grounds with the baseball Giants. He was given a Boston franchise instead, and, being the manager of patriotic singer Kate Smith, kept the "Yanks" name, playing in Boston from 1944 to 1948. In 1949, he finally got to move the team to Yankee Stadium, but the team failed. (Boston Yanks? Hey, in 1961-62, the NBA had the Chicago Packers.)

The Rams had also just broken the NFL's color barrier, signing a pair of local stars out of UCLA, Kenny Washington (who had been a football teammate of Jackie Robinson) and Woody Strode (an older player who became better known as an actor). In the AAFC, the Browns brought in Marion Motley and Bill Willis. So pro football had 4 "Jackie Robinsons," although there wasn't nearly as much of a fuss made over it, because pro football was still far behind baseball, college football, and even boxing and horse racing, on the sports fan's radar. It was still ahead of basketball (college and pro) and hockey, however.

The Rams had brought the NFL to the West Coast, but there were no teams between Chicago and L.A. Nor were there any teams in the South. The closest thing to a Southern team was the Redskins, and team owner George Preston Marshall refused to racially integrate, because he'd built up this huge radio network of Southern stations covering the Southernmost team in the NFL, and he didn't want to lose the Southern business lords who owned the stations. The Redskins didn't integrate until 1962, 16 years after the Rams did, and 3 years after the last baseball team to do so, the Red Sox.

The NFL was only in its 28th season in 1947, so most of the founding fathers were not only still alive, but still running the teams they founded, including George Halas with the Bears, Tim Mara in New York, and Art Rooney in Pittsburgh. Cardinals owner Charley Bidwill, not a founding owner (he bought the team in 1932), died before the season could begin, missing the title. The defining players of my childhood, men such as Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Larry Csonka, Joe Montana, John Riggins, Walter Payton and Lawrence Taylor,were either children themselves, or not born yet. Johnny Unitas was still in high school. Vince Lombardi was coaching the freshman football and basketball teams at Fordham University in The Bronx, his alma mater.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 5 times, in Canada and Italy 3 times; twice each in Britain, Australia, France, Italy, Austria, Norway, Japan and Russia (once before and once after the fall of the Soviet Union); and once each in Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, Germany, Bosnia (then a part of Yugoslavia) Korea, Spain, Greece and China. The World Cup has since been held in Brazil twice, Mexico twice, Germany twice, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Argentina, Spain, Italy, America, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa.

The President of the United States was Harry S Truman. Herbert Hoover, and the widows of Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt were still alive; Grover Cleveland's widow Frances has recently died. The Governor of the State of New York was Thomas E. Dewey, the Mayor of the City of New York was William O'Dwyer, and the Governor of New Jersey was Alfred E. Driscoll, whose pet project, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, he had just signed into law. (He would also create the Garden State Parkway.) In the city in question, the Mayor of Chicago was Martin Kennelly, and the Governor of Illinois was Dwight Green.

The Prime Minister of Canada was William Lyon Mackenzie King. The monarch of Britain was King George VI, and its Prime Minister was Clement Attlee. Liverpool won England's Football League in a mad scramble, only 1 point ahead of Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, (2 points for a win instead of 3 until 1981), and only 2 ahead of Stoke City. Charlton Athletic, of South London, won the FA Cup on a 114th minute goal, late in extra time of the Final, over Burnley. It remains their only major trophy. But in the new season that was underway, London's Arsenal would win the League, and Manchester United would win the FA Cup, beating Blackpool in the Final.

Major novels of 1947 included The Plague by Albert Camus, Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann, I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane, and James Michener's World War II-based Tales of the South Pacific, which became the Broadway musical and later film South Pacific. Margaret Wise Brown published Goodnight Moon. Anne Frank's diary was published under the title The Diary of a Young Girl. Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on Broadway, beginning the legend of Marlon Brando.

Major films of the year included Angel and the Badman, The Egg and I, The Farmer's Daughter, Gentleman's Agreement, Kiss of Death, The Lady from Shanghai, Life With Father, Miracle On 34th Street, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the Hope & Crosby film Road to Rio, the Bogart & Bacall film Dark Passage, the original film version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir with Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney, and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. In this film, Myrna Loy (then age 42) and Shirley Temple (19) play sisters (yeah, right), a judge and a high school student, who live together, and get into a love triangle over Cary Grant (who was 43).

It could have been worse: 1947 was also the year that Temple starred in That Hagen Girl, in which her character is said to be the illegitimate daughter of a man who was falling in love with her. To make matters worse, by this point, the formerly adorable little girl with the chubby cheeks and all those curls had, shall we say, developed. And the guy in question? Yes, that was Ronald Reagan (then 36) hitting on a stacked Shirley Temple. Gross. Reagan hated the film, and when he ran for Governor of California in 1966, prints of it suddenly began to disappear. At one point in the film, Reagan, who had been a lifeguard as an Illinois teenager, jumps into a river to save Temple's character from suicide. One review torched the film by saying it was too bad the attempt failed. Another critic said, "She acts with the mopish dejection of a school-child who has just been robbed of a two-scoop ice cream cone." She retired from acting just 3 years later, as she got married for the 2nd time (at age 22), ending one of the most iconic careers in the history of entertainment, but well past her "icon's" sell-by date.

Television was still new in 1947. NBC began American network TV that year, airing the World Series for the first time, and, a few weeks before, on November 6, 1947, premiered Meet the Press. It is still running today, the longest-running show in the history of television. CBS debuted its TV network the next year.

Frankie Laine scored his first gold record, for "That's My Desire." Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five recorded "Caldonia" and "Open the Door, Richard!" -- inventing rhythm & blues, and some people site "Caldonia" as "the first rock and roll record," although its hard to give that title to a recording whose electric guitar is so improminent. Merle Travis wrote and recorded "Sixteen Tons," and Roy Brown wrote and recorded "Good Rocking Tonight," but it would be a few years before either song would become widely known. Elvis Presley was about to turn 13, John Lennon and Ringo Starr were 7, Paul McCartney was 5, George Harrison was 4, and Michael Jackson wouldn't be born for another 11 years.

Nearly every American home had a radio, but half still didn't have telephones. The idea of having a phone that you could carry with you was a ridiculous. Raytheon developed the first microwave oven. Six days before the Cardinals won that Championship Game, Bell Labs demonstrated the first electronic transistor. Computers? The Mark I, ENIAC and UNIVAC were still new, and most people hadn't even heard of computers. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee wern't born yet.

In December 1947, women were first admitted to England's prestigious University of Cambridge, and were granted the right to vote in Argentina. French Communists derailed a passenger train, incorrectly believing it carried strikebreakers; 21 people were killed. A new constitution was approved by Italy. King Michael of Romania abdicated. Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47 was adopted for use by the Soviet Union's Red Army. The partition of India was still in the process of leading to the deaths of about 400,000 people, and a similar partition of British Palestine was being debated, which would lead to the creation of the state of Israel.

In America, the House Un-American activities Committee -- one of the most un-American institutions in American history -- was investigating Communist influences in Hollywood. The U.S. and U.K. governing bodies for the Society of Friends -- the Quakers -- were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And 2 days before the NFL Championship Game, on the day after Christmas, 26 inches of snow fell on the New York Tri-State Area, the region's heaviest snowfall until 1996.

Aleister Crowley, and and Stanley Baldwin, and the last King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, died. Ted Danson, and Tom Daschle, and Dilma Rousseff, the first female President of Brazil, were born. So were Baseball Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, stars of the 1975 World Series. And, on the very day of the NFL Championship Game, Aurelio Rodriguez, one of the best-fielding 3rd basemen of my lifetime.

December 28, 1947. The Chicago Cardinals win the NFL Championship Game. But 67 years -- two-thirds of a century -- and 2 cities later, the Arizona Cardinals have still never won another. In the last 66 seasons, they've only been to 1 NFL championship game under any name -- at least that was under the Super Bowl name, not that long ago.

Now, they are defending NFC West Champions. Can they keep this going, to the point where, instead of just hosting Super Bowls (this will be their 3rd), they can actually win one?

The New Orleans Saints did it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did it. Along with the Cardinals, those are the most-mocked franchises in NFL history. (Yes, even more so than the Jets.) So anything is possible.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Top 10 Sports Finals That Should Have Ended Differently


Spoiler Alert: I'm only going to alter the ending of 1 Yankee World Series loss. 

It's not 1955: I wouldn't deny Brooklyn its only World Series win. It's not 1957: I wouldn't deny Milwaukee it's only World Series win (so far). It's not 1960: Pittsburgh has only won 5 World Series in 112 seasons, so to deny them the Bill Mazeroski game would be petty. It's not 1964: Winning that one wouldn't have changed anything, as ownership was still determined to fire Yogi Berra as manager no matter what, and 1965, for reasons that Yogi had nothing to do with, would still have seen the old Dynasty come crashing down. It's not 1976: If the Yankees win that one, I don't think George Steinbrenner sees the need to pursue Reggie Jackson, so the titles of 1977 and 1978 might not have happened. It's not 2001: As wonderful as it would have been to have New York win the Post-9/11 World Series, I don't think it would have improved things for the Yankees much. And, at least directly, it's not 2003, although that one still bothers me. Jeff Weaver...

Nor am I going to reverse the results of the 2 Stanley Cup Finals that the Devils lost. True, it would be nice to say we have as many Stanley Cups -- 4 -- in the last 20 years as the Islanders have in the last 43 years and the Rangers have in the last 89 years. But making it 3 in 4 years (2000, 2001 and 2003) wouldn't change the team's history much. As for losing to the L.A. Knaves in 2012, it didn't ruin the Eastern Conference Finals win over The Scum. Aside from the 1st Cup win in 1995, "Henrique, it's over!" is the greatest moment in Devils history, and even with the 1995 Cup, that's the greatest goal in Devils history. (Sorry, Jason Arnott: I loved it your 2000 Cup-winner, but this was more important.)

And while there are a few Arsenal results I'd like to see changed, most of you reading this will be American, and won't get the references. So I'll limit it to 1 Arsenal match.

You might be surprised to know that all of these are within my lifetime.

These 10 are in chronological order, not in order of how much I want them to be changed, or in order of how much things would change if they had gone the other way.

Top 10 Sports Finals That Should Have Ended Differently

1. 1972 Stanley Cup Finals: Boston Bruins over New York Rangers, 4 games to 2.

What's this? Uncle Mike, a demented New Jersey Devils fan, is saying the New York Rangers should have won one more Stanley Cup? Ah, but you're overlooking 2 facts. First, back then, nobody said the Rangers sucked -- the Islanders were a few months from taking the ice, and an NHL team in New Jersey wasn't even an idea -- and they didn't suck: They were a classy team, with smart, stylish, fair players like Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Eddie Giacomin. And second, it's moving a World Championship from Boston to New York.

Now, I don't have anything against Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito or Gerry Cheevers. And, of the 5 big New England teams (including MLS' New England Revolution), I have less against the Bruins than I do the others. And, besides, they still won an epic Cup in 1970. Having their drought end in 2011 at 41 years instead of 39 doesn't change their history much.

But think of what it does to the Rangers. Ending their drought at 32 years means there's never a "1940!" chant. Perhaps, with that little bit of extra experience, they don't choke against the Islanders in 1975. Maybe the Islanders still become a great team in the late Seventies and win those Cups in the early Eighties anyway. But maybe the Ranger fans don't get so frustrated. Maybe they don't turn into the drunken boors that they became. Maybe "the Blue Seats" at Madison Square Garden become a place of quirkiness rather than genuine menace. Maybe they remember that they beat the Isles in the '79 Semi anyway, and get over the clean hit by Denis Potvin on Ulf Nilsson, which had absolutely no effect on the '79 Finals against the Montreal Canadiens (Nilsson did play in them).

And maybe, just maybe, with a Cup drought having reached 19 years by 1991, not 51, they don't go all-out and get Mark Messier and a bunch of other Edmonton Oiler Cup-winners, and the Devils beat them in the 1994 Conference Finals, and win their 1st Cup a year sooner, making it back-to-back Cups in '95, and making the Tri-State tally Devils 4, Isles 4, Rangers 4. But, also, it would mean that the rivalries the Rangers have with the Devils and Isles aren't nearly as nasty.

Today, the Rangers' drought would be 43 years instead of 21 -- twice as long -- but their fans wouldn't deserve the drought as much, and it wouldn't have been a terrible thing if they'd beaten the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Finals (even if it would give them a 5-4 advantage over both the Devils and the Isles).

2. 1973 Super Bowl VII: Miami Dolphins over Washington Redskins, 14-7.

When Garo Yepremian lined up for a field goal late in the 4th quarter, the Dolphins were thinking about how perfect it was going to be: The game hat made them a perfect 17-0 was going to end 17-0. But the attempt was blocked, and resulted in a Redskin touchdown to make it 14-7.

There was 2:07 left on the clock when Mike Bass scored. 'Skins coach George Allen, normally a very crafty guy whose killer instinct was every bit the equal of that of his opposite number in this game, Don Shula, didn't try an onside kick. The Washington defense held, and nearly blocked the Dolphins' punt. They had 1:14 left, but couldn't get a 1st down. If Allen had tried the onside kick, and the 'Skins had recovered, they could have scored a touchdown, sent the game into overtime, and won.

If they had, it would have ended a 30-year title drought for the Redskins (and for Washington as a whole, as the District hadn't had a title since the 1942 Redskins), instead of a 40-year drought when they got revenge on the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII (with the Bullets having taken the 1978 NBA title in the interim). It would also give the Redskins 6 NFL Championships, to the 5 of their arch-rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

What would it have done to the Dolphins? Who knows, but their 1972 edition wouldn't be "the only perfect team in NFL history." Maybe, having lost back-to-back Super Bowls, they win Super Bowl VIII over the Minnesota Vikings anyway. Or maybe they fall apart, and don't even win the AFC East in 1973. They were 12-2, the Buffalo Bills 9-5. They won 4 games by 10 points or less; if they have enough of a drop in confidence to lose them, the Bills -- in the year that O.J. Simpson became the 1st NFL player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season -- win the AFC East. Maybe they go all the way, and the Bills, with a Super Bowl win to their credit, are not seen as losers, even if they still lose those 4 straight Super Bowls in the early Nineties.

And maybe, with a Super Bowl ring to his name -- instead of just 1 Playoff game, which the Bills played the next season, and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- O.J. becomes a different person in his post-football life. In other words, he's still got his good name, his trophies, and his freedom, and nobody (except maybe UCLA, Dolphins and Vikings fans) has any problem with that.

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman don't die in 1994 (given over 20 years, it's possible either could have died by now by other means). There was never a "Trial of the Century." So Johnnie Cochran never becomes famous outside Southern California, therefore there's never a Jackie Chiles character on Seinfeld, therefore that series has a far less ridiculous finale. And Robert Kardashian Sr. never becomes famous outside Southern California, therefore his ex-wife and his daughters don't, either, and while they wouldn't be nearly as rich, they'd still be well-off, and they'd probably be a lot happier, never knowing that exposing their lives to the media also means, you know, exposing their lives to the media.

Further, maybe Don Shula doesn't become the NFL's all-time winningest coach. Maybe he's gone by 1982 -- allowing the Jets to win the AFC Championship. Would they have beaten the Redskins, as the Dolphins didn't? Probably not -- but maybe the boost of confidence allows them to make the Playoffs in 1983, and get past the Raiders, who did beat the Redskins in that season's Super Bowl, and the Jets have a 2nd title.

Think Jet fans might appreciate having 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 wins, instead of 1 and 1? Especially since, at this point, the Giants hadn't won a title since 1956 -- Eisenhower's 1st term? It certainly would have made it more interesting when Donald Trump, owner of the USFL's New Jersey Generals, tried to lure Jet coach Walt Michaels away: Trump would have had the money to do so, but would Jet owner Leon Hess have allowed it? It might have been one hell of a to-do, and it might have led to the eventual merger of the NFL and the USFL.

Any downside, if you're not a Dolphins fan? Well, Trump might be involved in the NFL today. Can you imagine Trump as NFL Commissioner? It might have been his price for giving up ownership of the team, as it's unlikely the NFL would have had 3 teams in the Tri-State Area, especially all in one stadium. Can you imagine Commissioner Trump dropping the hammer on Ray Rice for hitting his wife, on Adrian Peterson for abusing his kids? Can you imagine Commissioner Trump giving a damn about concussions and other long-term injuries that have debilitated ex-players? Can you imagine the most-used Twitter hashtag of 2014 being #TrumpMustGo? 

Maybe, without the shadow of the '72 Dolphins, the 2007 New England Patriots finish the job and go 19-0. Maybe, with a Super Bowl win to the credit of George H. Allen, his son George F. Allen rides that fame to not only get himself elected Governor of Virginia and U.S. Senator from that State, but nominated for President in 2012, and, not being a heartless asshole like Mitt Romney, and actually having some good experience in public office, beats President Barack Obama. And if that idea doesn't scare you, how about this: There are pictures on the Internet of Kanye West opening doors, carrying shopping bags, and shooing away photographers for his wife, Kim Kardashian. Kim getting as famous as she has? That has taught Kanye some humility. Imagine what he'd be like today if he didn't have Kim! And if Kim wasn't Kardashian-level famous, they might never have met, let alone hooked up!

I'm not saying that all of these possibilities would have happened if the Dolphins had gone 16-1 instead of 17-0 -- really, Obama would have beaten George F. Allen, simply because George F. is as dumb as that other Republican George who's not really a Junior and rode his daddy's coattails to political stardom -- but a lot of it could happened. All because George H. Allen, for once, wasn't enough of a bastard.

3. 1974 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics over Milwaukee Bucks, 4 games to 3. It would have been nice for Oscar Robertson to go out a World Champion in his final game. It would have been nice for a good city like Milwaukee to have 2 NBA titles in 4 seasons. But this is more about what it would have done to the Celtics.

One thing that really ticks me off about Boston sports fans is racism. All through the Sixties, the Celtics were winning title after title, yet the Boston Garden was only half-filled during the regular season. It was like the Atlanta Braves of the Nineties, if the Braves had actually won multiple titles, instead of just the 1 in 1995. Meanwhile, the Bruins mostly stunk until the end of the Sixties, yet the Garden was listed as having 13,909 fans for every Bruins game. Why? Simple: The Celtics' best players were black, the Bruins' players were all Canadian and therefore all white (though this would no longer be the case), and a big portion of Boston sports' fan base, at least until Mo Vaughn taught them to love black superstars (if not black roleplayers) was racist.

Don't believe me? Okay, then explain why Celtics' attendance went up when their center was no longer the very dark-skinned Bill Russell, but the very pale and Southern (from Kentucky) Dave Cowens. Now, I have nothing against Cowens: He was a great player and, as far as I can tell, a class act then and now. But a lot of teenagers who would never have put a poster of Russell on their bedroom walls put up a poster of Cowens.

Plus, if the Celtics don't win that 1974 title, maybe they don't win the 1976 title, either, and the Phoenix Suns do, and Arizona has its 1st title long before the 2001 World Series -- and maybe the Diamondbacks don't beat the Yankees. (Okay, I'm stretching credulity by saying that changing the '74 and '76 NBA Titles would cause that, 25 years later.)

But maybe the Celtics, not having won without Russell, not having won since 1969, never recover. Maybe the ownership change of 1978, with Irv Levin trading ownership of the Celtics to John Y. Brown Jr. for that of the Buffalo Braves, doesn't happen. Maybe Irv decides to do with the Celtics what he actually did with the Braves, and moves them to San Diego to become the Clippers -- and there is no outcry from most people in New England, as, in real life in the late Seventies, the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins were all not only better, but more popular.

Granted, this doesn't necessarily prevent the arrival in the NBA of Donald Sterling and the move of the Clippers to Los Angeles. But it does prevent Red Auerbach from being involved (he wouldn't have moved to California), and then, who knows where Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson end up. Maybe Bird ends up in San Diego, where he and Bill Walton team up a few years sooner, and it's the Clippers, dueling with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, instead of in the NBA Finals as the Boston Celtics, and the Celtics-turned-Clippers win the 1981, 1984 and 1986 NBA Titles. San Diego becomes a big sports city, the Clippers get a downtown arena and are still there, the Padres get Petco Park much sooner, the Chargers get a new stadium as well, and nobody laughs at the name Pete Wilson, then Mayor, later U.S. Senator from California and Governor, gave to San Diego in the Eighties: "America's Finest City."

4. 1981 World Series: Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Yankees, 4 games to 2.

People don't realize how many big games the Yankees have lost, mainly because there's a lot more big games that they've won. But this loss, which came when I was 11 going on 12, really sticks in my craw, to this day. Not winning this Series wouldn't have changed Tommy Lasorda's legacy much -- the Dodgers probably still ride Kirk Gibson's home run and Orel Hershiser's pitching to win the 1988 Series -- but it means Steve Garvey goes 0-for-4 in World Series play (3 with L.A., 1 with San Diego). But beyond sticking it to L.A., and especially to the O'Malley family...

What would have happened to the Yankees? The effect would have been mind-boggling. First, Bobby Murcer, one of the noblest Yankees ever, gets a ring. Tommy John, who was in 3 Yankee-Dodger World Series and was on the losing side in every one, gets a ring. Dave Winfield gets a ring, 11 years before the one he actually got, with the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays.

With a 3rd World Championship in 5 seasons together, maybe George and Reggie Jackson swallow their differences, and Reggie gets a contract that effectively makes him a Yankee for life. Reggie had subpar seasons in 1983 and 1984, and a great season in 1982 when the Yankees had a bad one, so that doesn't make much difference.

But suppose the 1981 title changes other things. Maybe George sticks with manager Bob Lemon a while longer, and doesn't make 3 managerial changes in 1982. Maybe he doesn't give Billy Martin a 3rd go-round in 1983, keeping Lem. Maybe he still fires Lem after 1983, hiring Yogi Berra. Maybe he handles the Yogi situation better in early 1985, meaning there's no 14-year rift between them, and Yogi is on hand for more great moments.

Maybe the 1985 season is Billy's 3rd run, and, without the added stress of the '83 season (surely, Lem would have listened to Graig Nettles' mention of George Brett's pine tar), Billy is in a better frame of mind, and doesn't have that late-season feud with Ed Whitson. Whitson was having a really good season, but Billy denied him his regular start on September 20, then came that fight on the 22nd, and Whitson didn't pitch again that season, due to his injuries as much to being in the Martin Doghouse.

Whitson would have pitched on September 20 (the Yanks lost to the Baltimore Orioles, 4-2), 25 (the Yanks beat the Detroit Tigers, 10-2), 29 (the Yanks beat the Orioles, 9-2) and, most critically of all, October 5, the 1 game in the season-finale 3-game series with the 1st place Blue Jays that the Yankees lost (5-1). The Yankees finished 2 games back of the Jays in the American League Eastern Division; had they won that Saturday game, and nothing else changed in '85, they would have played the Jays in a Monday Playoff at Exhibition Stadium, probably with Ron Guidry starting on 3 days' rest as in Boston in 1978. But if Whitson starts and wins the September 20 game and the October 5 game, the Yankees win the AL East.

The Jays blew a 3-games-to-1 lead against the Kansas City Royals in the AL Championship Series, while the Yankees may not have. And if the St. Louis Cardinals couldn't beat the Royals, maybe they wouldn't have beaten the Yankees, either, especially with Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. Title 23 happens in 1981 instead of 1996, and Title 24 happens in 1985 instead of 1998.

Now imagine that George and Winfield have 2 rings together: 1981 and 1985. George never labels Dave "Mr. May," and never tries to dig up dirt on him, resulting in Dave's exit from Pinstripes and George's 2-year ban from baseball. Instead, Dave is happier, and puts up just enough additional numbers in 1986 and 1988. Reggie, who now has 4 rings as a Yankee, 7 overall, had his last good season in 1986. Billy, with the additional confidence, doesn't drink as much, and is still the Yankee manager. The Yankees beat the Red Sox out for the Division. But, without Reggie, the California Angels don't with the AL West. The Texas Rangers do, winning their 1st full-season Division title 10 years earlier. Donnie Moore doesn't give up that home run to Dave Henderson -- neither one is even in the '86 ALCS -- and Moore never sinks into a depression, never tries to kill his wife (unsuccessfully) and himself (successfully), and might still be alive today.

And we get a Subway Series in 1986. And that's Dave Righetti on the mound to close the Mets out at Shea in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6, up by 2 runs. And even if it still gets blown, and Mookie Wilson still hits that "little roller up along first," that's not an injured Bill Buckner playing 1st base, that's a healthy Don Mattingly, already with the previous season's ring to his credit. He makes the play, the Yankees win the game in the 11th, and humiliate the "inevitable" Mets.

Now, the Mets' pretense to being the best team in baseball is shattered, because they're not even the best team in New York. And now, they haven't won the World Series since 1969. And now, we're talking about The Curse of Amos Otis. (Or, as baseball historian/stathead Rob Neyer would put it, "JoeFoyJoeFoyJoeFoyJoeFoyJoeFoy!") While, for the Yankees, Title 25 happens in 1986, not 1999.

So even if the Yankees don't win anything in 1987 or '88, and still fall apart in '89, a huge difference is made. Most likely, Billy's life is closer to being in order, and he doesn't die in that drunken truck wreck on Christmas Day 1989. (He wouldn't still be alive today -- he'd be 86 -- but he would have lived a lot longer and happier.) Would George, still in charge in 1990, have listened to Gene Michael on how to best rebuild the Yankees, so that the 1996-2003 Dynasty still happens? Maybe, because, having those 3 extra rings (1981, 1985 and 1986), he's more content, and thus more reasonable; we get the "Nice Old George" of 1996 several years sooner.

Maybe Dave still ends up on the Blue Jays in 1992, but now, instead of 1 ring, he has 4. Donnie has 2 rings. In addition to Reggie and Dave, and Goose Gossage getting in years sooner than he actually did, George, Billy, Donnie, Guidry and Tommy John all probably get into the Hall of Fame. Nettles and Righetti might, too. Murcer, Winfield, T.J. and Nettles also get Monument Park Plaques, and Donnie isn't the only Yankee in there who doesn't have so much as a Pennant.

Oh yeah: With the '86 Series turning out different, a certain Seinfeld episode is different: "Who does this guy think he is?" "I'm Bob Nystrom!"

5. 1986 World Series: New York Mets over Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 3.

Bless me, Babe, for I have sinned: I wanted the Red Sox to win the 1986 World Series. It's hard, now, to imagine a Yankee Fan hating the Mets more than the Red Sox, but that's how much I hated the Mets then.

Indeed, the Mets had already put congratulations to the Sox up on the Shea Stadium scoreboard, as seen in the photo above. No, that's not an artist's depiction from an alternate-history novel. Nor is it from an episode of Sliders or Fringe. Nor is it from a movie like Back to the Future (whose "present" did take place exactly 1 year earlier, on October 26, 1985, the day of the Don Denkinger Game), Frequency (whose past did take place during the Mets' 1969 World Series win) or The Butterfly Effect.

Now, suppose Calvin Schiraldi had simply jammed Gary Carter, and gotten him to pop up. Again, the Mets don't win the '86 Series, and so: No title since '69, and they become a massive joke, with none of their later failures (1988, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2008, and their post-Shea meltdown) surprising anyone. Keith Hernandez never goes on Seinfeld, and his only ring is with the 1982 Cardinals. Gary Carter never gets a ring, or into the Hall of Fame. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden do get rings, but with the Nineties Yankees, not the Eighties Mets. And the '69 title begins to look more and more like it really was a "miracle."

As for the Red Sox: You know how David Ortiz is a god in New England? Instead, that's Dave Henderson, the hero of both Game 5 of the ALCS and Game 6 of the World Series. Wade Boggs gets his ring 10 years sooner, and Roger Clemens gets his 13 years sooner. Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy writes a book about the Red Sox, but it's happier, and it certainly doesn't have the title The Curse of the Bambino -- if that phrase had existed prior to October 25, 1986, no one would have heard it afterward.

That's just the direct effects. What about the residual effects? Maybe the Sox keep Henderson, and he's not on the 1988-92 Oakland Athletics, and they win nothing -- and the Sox win at least the AL Pennant in 1988 and 1990. Maybe the Blue Jays win their 1st Pennant 3 years sooner, in 1989. Maybe the Giants win their 1st World Series in San Francisco 21 years earlier.

Beyond getting the Sox the 1988 Pennant (and maybe beating the Dodgers for another title), maybe not winning a Pennant, instead of 3 of them and the '89 Series, discredits Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire to the point that steroids don't catch on in baseball as much as they did, for all that this would mean, from Roger Maris and Hank Aaron still holding the home run records, to Ken Caminiti still being alive, to deserving Hall of Fame elections for Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and maybe also (even with 450 homers instead of 569, and 2,700 hits instead of over 3,000) Rafael Palmeiro -- because they never found it necessary to use PEDs. And those players suspected, but not proven, get in sooner: Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and maybe also Carlos Delgado.

And maybe the Yankees don't get beat by teams with known steroid cheats on them: The 1997 Orioles, the 2001 Diamondbacks, the 2003 Florida Marlins, the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox, the 2006 Tigers, and I still wonder about Josh Hamilton on the 2010 Rangers.

Maybe the A's not winning a Pennant since 1974 (40 seasons, now) means that Tony LaRussa never gets hired as Cardinal manager, and the Cardinals are without a Pennant since 1987 (27 seasons, their longest drought ever). The Houston Astros win the Pennant in 2004 (their 1st Pennant coming a year sooner), the Mets in 2006 (meaning Yadier Molina isn't a name Met fans remember, and if Endy Chavez still makes that catch it becomes a bigger legend), the Brewers in 2011 (their 1st Pennant in 29 years) and the Dodgers in 2013 (their 1st in 25 years). Maybe the Astros win the Series in 2004, the Mets or Tigers in 2006, the Brewers or Rangers in 2011, or the Dodgers in 2013. Certainly, LaRussa never gets elected to the Hall of Fame.

But even if none of that changes, there's something else to consider: If the Red Sox win the 1986 World Series, ending their drought at 68 years instead of 86, it changes the mindset of the Red Sox fan, much the same way a 1972 Cup win would have changed the mindset of the New York Ranger fan. Maybe, with the failures of 1946, '48, '49, '67, '72, '74, '75, '77 and '78 wiped away by the failure of '86 becoming the glory of '86 -- even if they don't also win in place of the A's in '88 and '90 -- their self-esteem is improved. Having beaten both New York teams in '86 (the Yankees for the Division, the Mets in the Series), their hatred of New York abates somewhat, and "Yankees suck!" isn't their answer for everything.

So their vitriol simply doesn't reach the levels that it did in 1999, and from 2003 onward. And, even if they still win in 2004, the drought is now 18 years, not 86, and Sox fans age 25 and up will have a memory of having won, and those age 25 and down will have their parents or older siblings telling them about it, and they won't become as insufferable as winners as they were pathetic as losers. They won't become the "Massholes" that they became in 2004, and again in 2007, and again in 2013.

So even if they still win all 3 of those titles, as well as in 1986, the vast majority of Red Sox fans will be considerably more tolerable. And when you consider what they actually did become, that would have become every bit as good a result as the Mets blowing it in '86 -- the difference being that we would never know how good a difference it was.

6. 1994 Super Bowl XXVIII: Dallas Cowboys over Buffalo Bills, 30-13.

Everybody forgets that the Bills led this game at halftime, 13-6. If Jim Jeffcoat and Charles Haley don't sack Jim Kelly early in the 3rd quarter, with the game at 13-13, maybe the Bills score next, and it's 20-13 Buffalo, and the Cowboys never recover.

Chances are, this doesn't stop the Cowboys from beating the Steelers 2 years later -- it won't make Neil O'Donnell any smarter -- but it would give Buffalo its 1st World Championship in any sport (assuming Scenario Number 2 above hadn't also happened), and would forever remove the label of "loser" from Buffalo.

Think what it would have done for the psyche of Western New York. The continued industrial decline of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries would have been ameliorated by a title, the way it worked in Pittsburgh with the Steelers in the Seventies. Celebrity Bills fan Tim Russert could have gone to his final reward with a photo himself holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy with Kelly. And, with the loser mentality gone, maybe the Bills stick together, and win another -- maybe beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, and then the Cowboys in another Super Bowl, 2 years later. Maybe they stop the Tennessee Titans' "Music City Miracle" in January 2000 -- the last Playoff game the franchise has ever played in real life. Maybe they then go on to beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Rich/Ralph Wilson Stadium gets replaced by now, ensuring the Bills won't move to Toronto, Los Angeles or anywhere else, for the next half a century. And maybe there's another Buffalo-Dallas final that gets reversed: The Buffalo Sabres win the 1999 Stanley Cup over the Dallas Stars, without that goal by Brett Hull that never should have counted.

7. 1994 Stanley Cup Finals: New York Rangers over Vancouver Canucks, 4 games to 3.

Fast fact with which you can amaze your friends: Even if don't count the Islanders as a "New York team," New York had still won the Stanley Cup more recently than Vancouver. New York City's last Cup was with the 1940 Rangers, 54 years; Vancouver's last Cup was with the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires, 79 years. (It's about to be 100 in March -- so even if the Canucks win the Cup this June, it will still surpass the centennial.)

Beyond what winning a Stanley Cup would have done for Vancouver, and British Columbia as a whole, here's what it would have done to the Rangers: Rendered them the most gigantic joke in the history of North American team sports. The '94 Rangers were every bit the "inevitable World Champions" that the '86 Mets were, mainly because of Mark Messier. But in spite of his guarantee against the Devils before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals -- which was far gutsier than Joe Namath's before Super Bowl III, 25 years earlier, because Broadway Joe had very little to lose -- Messier was always meant to be the difference-maker. If the Rangers had blown a 3-games-to-1 lead, with Games 5 and 7 at home, it wouldn't have been general manager Neil Smith, or head coach Mike Keenan, who took the blame. It would have been Messier.

He would have become the biggest failure in the history of New York Tri-State Area sports. He would have gone from being loved like a god to despised like, well, a devil in a matter of 180 minutes of ice time. And, with the Garden being on top of Penn Station, he could literally have been run out of town on a rail.

And, of course, the Rangers would now be 75 years without a Stanley Cup, with only as many as the Devils (3), and 1 less in almost 90 years as the Islanders got in 4 (4). The fact that "Original Six" teams Detroit (in their case, 4) Chicago (2) and Boston have ended long droughts since would make it even worse.

8. 1997 World Series: Florida Marlins over Cleveland Indians, 4 games to 3.

The Indians would have won their 1st World Series in 49 years, and would not now be without one in 67 years. Cleveland would have had its 1st World Championship in any sport since the 1964 Browns, 33 years earlier, and would not now be without one in half a century. Whether that would have helped the Indians, the Browns or the Cavaliers in any future competitions is debatable.

To me, the bigger point was the fact of Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga spending like mad to win in '97, with the intent of breaking it all up immediately thereafter. Indeed in just 1 year, the Fish went from World Champions to losing 108 games -- an extraordinary amount for a non-expansion team, although, even with the title, they were only in their 5th season.

So, with a Pennant to their credit, but no title, maybe Huizenga, humiliated, sells the team sooner, and they move -- to Washington, D.C. So, instead of Jeffrey Loria essentially taking the Montreal Expos organization to Miami, and leaving a lame-duck team in Montreal, Commissioner Bud Selig actually allows him to move the Expos to Miami. So the Nats we know are the Marlins, and the Marlins we know are the Nats.

Which means that it's Washington, a city that's actually waited longer to win a Pennant than Chicago has (1933 to 1945 for the Cubs, 1933 to 1959 for the White Sox), who benefit from the Steve Bartman mess. But do the Nats beat the Yankees in the 2003 World Series? The Dolphins' stadium (whatever the hell it was being called in 2003) wasn't an easy park for a home run hitter, but what if Nationals Park isn't built yet? Robert F. Kennedy Stadium was a hitter's park for the Senators from 1962 to 1971, but for the Nationals from 2005 to 2007, it had become a pitcher's park. Maybe Alex Gonzalez doesn't quite take Jeff Weaver deep, and the Yankees win Game 4, and clinch in Game 5. What does that mean for the Nats? Not a whole lot, they've still got 1 more Pennant as a Washington team than they have now, and they certainly didn't lose the Series in a heartbreaking manner.

But what would winning the 2003 World Series mean for the Yankees? Well, maybe, riding his October glory, Aaron Boone is at some sort of speaking engagement instead of playing pickup basketball, and doesn't get hurt. He hit 16 homers with 60 RBIs for the Indians in 2005, so it's not out of the question for a healthy 31-year-old Boone to do a little better for the Yankees as their starting 3rd baseman in 2004.

Because if Boone doesn't get hurt, the Yankees do not trade Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod never becomes a Yankee, and Soriano continues to produce. Soriano and Boone, combined, put up slightly better numbers than A-Rod and replacement 2nd baseman Miguel Cairo. Then, if Boone goes downhill, Robinson Cano is ready, and Soriano moves over to 3rd, and Sori and Robbie put up roughly equal numbers to A-Rod and Robbie.

Instead, the Red Sox, knowing that the Yankees don't need A-Rod, do whatever it takes to insure that he comes to Boston for the springtime. Ah, but, like in that song, Boston ain't his kind of town. He falls apart in the ALCS (if, that is, the Sox even get that far), and slaps the ball out of Tom Gordon's glove in Game 6, gets called out, and the Yankees win the Pennant, and sweep the Cardinals in the World Series. Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez both leave the Sox without winning a Pennant. A year later, so does Johnny Damon, who follows the path of Boggs and Clemens, and helps the Yankees win the World Series in 2006 and 2009. Without the failure of 1997 dogging them, the Indians win the Pennant and the Series in 2007 -- winning as many titles in 11 years as they had in the previous 96.

The Sox, meanwhile, don't just get fed up with the steroided Manny Ramirez (who, at least, won a ring with the '97 Tribe) and his antics, they also get fed up by the steroided and Pennantless David Ortiz, and they enter the 2015 season having not won the World Series in 97 years.

All because Jose Mesa had a little better movement on his fastball, and Cleveland beat the Marlins in the 1997 World Series.

9. 2005 Super Bowl XXIX: New England Patriots over Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21.

Whether through having Terrell Owens' injury get one more day's worth of improvement, or giving Donovan McNabb a reprieve from nausea, or having the Eagles figure out that the way to beat the Pats is to knock Tom Brady on his candy ass (as the Giants figured out 3 years later), or allowing Andy Reid to grasp the concept of "clock management," or "Spygate" being uncovered in the buildup to this Super Bowl, thus distracting the Pats just enough to put them off their game and give the Eagles what they needed....

Reversing this one would have turned the Eagles from a team that hadn't won a title in 44 years -- since 1960, or "Super Bowl -VI" if you prefer -- to a team that had won a title in the 21st Century, giving their long-suffering fans the joy they need. Even if the relationship between T.O. and the organization still imploded the next season, I think Eagle fans could have lived with it, so long as they had that one Lombardi Trophy.

What would it have done to New England? Well, for starters, it would have punished the Pats for their cheating much sooner than they actually were. (If you can call losing a Super Bowl "punishment.") It would also have meant that New England wasn't the holder of the MLB and NFL titles at the same time between February 6 and October 26, 2005.

One good thing about the Pats' win in this Super Bowl: Their punter was Josh Miller, the one and only football player from my alma mater, East Brunswick High School in Central Jersey, to reach the NFL in our 54 seasons of play. He reached 2 AFC Championship Games with the Steelers, but they lost both of them. Winning the 2004 title with the Pats makes him the only EBHS graduate with a championship ring in any major sport. (Basketball player Dave Wohl has a ring, but that's as a Laker assistant coach, which is hardly the same thing as winning one as a player. Soccer player Heather O'Reilly has 3 Olympic Gold Medals, but not a Women's World Cup medal -- though that could come this summer.) Reversing the result of Super Bowl XXXIX would deny Josh his ring, and as someone who knew him at EBHS and has talked with him a few times since, I'd really prefer not to deny him that ring. Then again, if "Spygate" had been revealed in 2001, the Steelers might have beaten the Rams in the Patriots' place, and Josh would have a ring.

10. 2006 UEFA Champions League Final: FC Barcelona over Arsenal FC, 2-1.

Despite going down to 10 men after just 18 minutes due to a red-card challenge by German goalkeeper "Mad Jens" Lehmann (it deserved a yellow, but not a straight red), Arsenal led 1-0 after 75 minutes, thanks to a 37th-minute goal by, of all people, a defender, Sol Campbell. But Samuel Eto'o scored in the 76th, and Juliano Belletti in the 81st, and Arsenal left the Stade de France outside Paris having lost the biggest game in club history.

I admire Eto'o, and Ronaldinho, and Henrik Larsson, all of whom played for Barca in this match. And former Arsenal stars Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Sylvinho got CL medals out of this. But they also had players I cannot stand: Carles Puyol, Mark van Bommel, Rafa Marquez. And it's not as though Barca hadn't won the European Cup before: They'd won it in 1992. Most likely, reversing this result wouldn't have stopped them from winning it in 2009 and 2011, as they actually did.

No, reversing this result is all about what it would have done for The Arsenal. This Final was the last game in Arsenal colors for Dennis Bergkamp (retired), Robert Pires (contract ran out, not re-signed), Ashley Cole (wanted out because he thought he was underpaid at £55,000 a week, sold to free-spending Chelsea) and Sol Campbell (contract ran out, wanted out, was not re-signed, although returned in the 2010-11 season).

The players that were meant to, essentially, replace those guys didn't get the job done: Jose Antonio Reyes proved to be easily injured and intimidated, Alexander Hleb didn't pan out and few fans were upset when he was sold 2 years later, Gael Clichy was all right at left back but was no Cole, and William Gallas wasn't even close to Sol. Within another year, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg went elsewhere.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had already let club Captain Patrick Vieira go because he wanted to make room for Spanish teenager Cesc Fabregas, and he built a team around Cesc. This was a massive mistake, as most of the players he brought in didn't pan out. Fabregas would continually get hurt in between brilliant performances, and then, in 2011, while Captain, went on strike, and demanded to be sold back to his former club -- Barcelona. A year later, new Captain Robin van Persie, frustrated that there were no trophies since the 2005 FA Cup (the only one the club won while he or Cesc was with the club), demanded to be sold to, of all teams, Manchester United, thus throwing them the 2013 Premier League title.

Samir Nasri turned out to be good while playing alongside Cesc, but not otherwise, and he demanded to be sold to Manchester City, because he was all about the money. So was Emmanuel Adebayor, who, along with van Persie, was supposed to replace Henry; he was sold to Man City, then, when he didn't pan out for them, they sold him to Arsenal's arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur (a.k.a. "Spurs"), where he's won nothing. But several ex-Gunners did win elsewhere: Henry and Hleb won the Champions League with Barcelona, Nasri's won 2 League titles with Man City, RVP 1 with Man United, Cole several trophies including a Champions League with Chelsea, and so on. While Arsenal's trophy drought reached 9 years before last season's FA Cup win.

Wenger's big mistake was that, knowing he had to take off an outfield player after Lehmann's red card, because he had to send backup keeper Manuel Almunia into goal, took off Pires. The weakest attacking player at that time was Hleb. If he had left Pires on, Pires could have scored, or assisted, to make it 2-0, and Barca might not have come back from that.

If Arsenal had won the Champions League in 2006, the entire narrative changes. It would have been far easier to accept Cesc leaving if he had helped us to win the biggest trophy of all. (The European Cup is larger than any other available trophy, with its huge handles giving it the nickname "Ol' Big Ears.") The confidence gained from that might have led to Arsenal not failing down the stretch in 2008 and '09, and winning both League titles. Arsenal also reached the Semifinals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League in 2009, and winning either would have been a big boost. Most likely, the 2007 League Cup Final would still have been lost, because Wenger only started 2 of his usual starters (Cesc and Kolo Toure), but had 9 usual starters in the 2011 League Cup Final, so that could have been won, too. And if RVP really was all about the trophies, not the money, then that would have been at least 5 and possibly 7 trophies for him in Arsenal's colors, instead of just 1.

The British media, which has long hated Arsenal, would have had to come up with other things to say about the club, besides, "Arsenal haven't won a trophy in (X) years." Fans of other clubs, no stranger to coming up with bullshit to use on Arsenal, wouldn't have been able to use it, either. And the 2014 FA Cup win would have been a nice addition, instead of a trophy that we absolutely had to have.

Monday, January 26, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Miami Dolphins Were In a Super Bowl


There's a football revolution brewing in Miami, Florida.

It's not the Dolphins. It's not the Hurricanes.

It's David Beckham's MLS expansion franchise, awarded last year, although no one yet knows what year it will start play.

Since 1993, we've seen the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals 5 times, winning 3; the Florida (now Miami) Marlins win 2 World Series; and the Florida Panthers reach a Stanley Cup Finals. In all that time, the Miami Dolphins, South Florida's signature sports team (at least, until the Heat became the LeBrons), not even reach an AFC Championship Game. That's 22 years. They haven't reached the Super Bowl since Super Bowl XIX, in 1985. That's 30 years. They haven't won it since Super Bowl VIII, in 1974. That's 41 years.

If the Dolphins were an English soccer team, their rivals' fans would be saying, "Big club, my arse."

In Super Bowl XIX, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California, the San Francisco 49ers didn't need this not-quite-home-field advantage to beat the Dolphins. They had a team that went 15-1, with Hall-of-Famers Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Fred Dean, and should-be Hall-of-Famers Roger Craig, Dwight Clark, Randy Cross and Guy McIntyre. (Jerry Rice arrived the next season.) The Niners won, 38-16, with Gary "Big Hands" Johnson getting in Dan Marino's face, and Montana proving, despite the records that Marino set that season, the difference between a passer and a quarterback.

I could do this for the Dolphins' last Super Bowl win, and I probably should have, last year, on the 40th Anniversary.

But their last Super Bowl appearance was on January 20, 1985. That's 30 years. How long has that been?

*

As I said, their quarterback was Dan Marino, in his 2nd NFL season. He's now been retired for 15 years. Their head coach was Don Shula, now the winningest coach in NFL history. He's now been retired for 19 years.

The Dolphins' home field, for 2 more seasons, was the Orange Bowl. They moved into what began its use as Joe Robbie Stadium, named for the team's founding owner, and went through several more names as corporate sponsorships came and went, and is now Sun Life Stadium. The Orange Bowl has been demolished, and Marlins Park has been built on the site.

The 49ers have also left their home field of the time, Candlestick Park, for the new Levi's Stadium. Candlestick is now in the process of being demolished, leading many to think, "What took them so long?" Of the 28 teams then in the NFL, only 6 teams are still playing in the same stadium, 30 years later: Buffalo, Green Bay, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland and San Diego.

There was no NFL team in Baltimore, or Charlotte, or Jacksonville, or Nashville, or Oakland, or Phoenix. There were 2 in Los Angeles. There was a team in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. There was a team in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans. The Colts had just finished their 2nd season in Indianapolis, after moving there from Baltimore. The United States Football League was still in operation, and had Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and Reggie White, plus Steve Spurrier as a coach.

The Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots, the New York Giants, the Buffalo Bills, the San Diego Chargers, the Atlanta Falcons, the team then known as the Houston Oilers, the franchise then known as the Cleveland Browns, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seattle Seahawks, the franchise then known as the St. Louis Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints had never been to a Super Bowl. Nor had the Colts, obviously, since they moved to Indianapolis. The Bears, the Giants, the Browns, the Patriots, the Bucs, the Saints, the Seahawks, the Denver Broncos, the team then known as the Los Angeles Rams, and the Colts since they moved had never won one. (The Bears, Giants, Browns, Rams and Cardinals, however, won NFL Championships in the pre-Super Bowl era, while the Bills, Chargers and Oilers had won AFL Championships.)

The NFL had not yet adopted instant replay challenges or the 2-point conversion. There were no stadiums with retractable roofs. The idea of playing preseason games, let alone regular-season games, in other countries was being discussed, but not yet approved. The idea that a player could be a viable quarterback or running back at 260 pounds was ridiculous -- then again, we were mere months from the Chicago Bears experimenting with rookie defensive tackle William Perry, who put so much food into himself at Clemson University that he was nicknamed "The Refrigerator." And hardly anybody had stopped to consider the role of football in domestic violence. Or repeated concussions, or any other long-term injury.

Early NFL greats Red Grange, John "Johnny Blood" McNally, Bronko Nagurski, Clarke Hinkle, Mel Hein and Fritz Pollard were still alive. Peyton Manning was 8 years old, going on 9; Eli Manning had just turned 4. Michael Strahan was 13, Adam Vinatieri was 12 (he's now the NFL's oldest active player), Ray Lewis was about to turn 10, Tom Brady was 7, Drew Brees was 6, and Aaron Rodgers was 1. Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Rob Gronkowski, Mark Sanchez and Ray Rice weren't born yet. Adrian Peterson would be born 2 months later.

The 49ers had dethroned the Los Angeles Raiders as NFL Champions. The World Champions in the other sports were the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Celtics and the Edmonton Oilers. Larry Holmes was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America and Canada twice, and once each in Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in America, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush was his Vice President. Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, their wives, and the widows of Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy were still alive. Bill Clinton had just started his 3rd term as Governor of Arkansas. George W. Bush was a drunken business failure who'd lost his only run for public office to that point. Barack Obama was working for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The Governor of the State of New York was Mario Cuomo, the Mayor of the City of New York was Ed Koch, and the Governor of New Jersey was Tom Kean. The Governor of the State in question, Florida, was Bob Graham. The Mayor of Miami was Maurice A. Ferré, the first Hispanic Mayor of the city, and the first native of Puerto Rico to be elected Mayor of any large U.S. city.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney. The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- and its Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. Liverpool FC were the defending Champions of the Football League, while "the other team" in Liverpool, Everton, were the holders of the FA Cup.

Major novels of 1985 included The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Contact by Carl Sagan (all of the preceding set in the future), Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, The Cider House Rules by John Irving, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. The last of these became a major TV miniseries; the rest all became major motion pictures.

Speaking of movies: The Falcon and the Snowman, Witness and The Breakfast Club were about to premiere in theaters. ThunderCats, Moonlighting and Mr. Belvedere were about to debut on American television. EastEnders was about to debut on British TV. "We Are the World" would be recorded 8 days after that Super Bowl, and a month later, Whitney Houston's eponymous debut album would be released. Released that January were John Fogerty's Centerfield, the Commodores' Nightshift, and Phil Collins' unctuous No Jacket Required (though you needed a straitjacket if you liked the damn thing).

There were mobile telephones, but they were huge, still being called "bricks." The Internet as we know it was still roughly a decade away, although its Domain Name System had just been created. Video arcades were still gobbling up quarters from impressionable teenagers, including yours truly. There were personal computers, but they were desktops, not laptops or, God forbid, fitting into anybody's pocket. Playing games on those computers was difficult, taking forever to load. Home gaming, aside from the traditional board games, was limited to your TV, on such systems as the Atari 5200 SuperSystem and ColecoVision. Nintendo was a few months away from launching its NES console.

In the Winter of 1985, a democratic election put an end to 20 years of military rule in Brazil, and another ended 12 years of military rule in Uruguay. British Telecom announced it was phasing out its iconic red telephone booths. Israel began withdrawing troops from Lebanon. William Schroeder became the first artificial heart patient to leave the hospital where his surgery was performed.

Konstantin Chernenko, and Nicholas Colasanto, and Van Lingle Mungo died. Joe Flacco, and Heather O'Reilly, and Cristiano Ronaldo were born.

January 20, 1985. The Miami Dolphins got clobbered by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX. They have never appeared in another Super Bowl.

They were 8-8 in 2014, so it's not like they're hopeless. But is anybody really excited about the 2015 prospects of a team with Dennis Hickey as general manager, Joe Philbin as head coach, and Ryan Tannehill as starting quarterback? Let's just say that the Dolphins are one reason I'm glad I don't live in South Florida. Or in any part of the South, for that matter.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I Love the FA Cup


To paraphrase the former opening sequence of my favorite TV show, Castle:

There are two kinds of folks who don't love the FA Cup: Psychopaths, and people who've never heard of it.

I freakin' LOVE the FA Cup.

Though that doesn't necessarily keep one out of the first category, that of "psychopath."

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For those of you who fall into the second category:

The FA Cup is the Football Association Cup, an annual tournament run by The Football Association, the governing body for soccer in England -- with a few teams in Wales participating. (There is also a Football Association of Wales, FAW, that runs the Welsh Cup, in which 2 English teams, close to the England-Wales "border," participate. Are you following me so far?) No teams from Scotland or either of the Irelands are eligible. Teams from the Channel Islands, the Isle of Wight, and the Isle of Man are.

This season, 736 soccer teams -- sorry, forgot to speak English there, football clubs -- participated. England's soccer structure is as follows:

1. Premier League, 20 teams (until 1992, named the Football League Division One)
2. The Championship, 24 teams (formerly the Football League Division Two)
3. Football League One, 24 teams (formerly the Football League Division Three)
4. Football League Two, 24 teams (formerly the Football League Division Four)
5. Conference Premier, 24 teams
6. Conference North and Conference South, 22 teams each
7. Three separate leagues of 24 teams each: Northern Premier League Premier Division, Southern Football League Premier Division, Isthmian League Premier Division
8. Six separate leagues: Northern Premier League Division One North (22 teams), Northern Premier League Division One South, Southern Football League Division One Central, Southern Football League Division One South & West, Isthmian League Division One North, and Isthmian League Division One South (24 teams in the two Isthmian divisions, 22 in each of the others)
9. Fourteen separate leagues, averaging 22 teams per
10. Seventeen separate leagues, averaging 20 teams per

And so on, down to a 24th division. Based on performance, teams can move up a division (unless they're already in the Premier League) or down one.

(In England, going to games at the grounds of all 92 teams in the Football League -- the top 4 divisions, even though the Premier League is considered separate from the Football League -- a.k.a. "Doing the 92," is the equivalent of Americans seeing games at all 30 Major League Baseball parks. It is possible to do all 92 in one season, given enough money, due to the length of the season, from mid-August to mid-May. But, for most people, "Doing the 92" is a lifetime goal.)

Teams in the Premier League (1st division) get an automatic bye to the 3rd Round Proper. Teams in the Championship get an automatic bye to the 2nd Round Proper. Teams in League One and League Two get an automatic by to the 1st Round Proper.

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Before the start of every round -- usually, the day after the end of the previous round -- balls are pulled out of a hopper, lottery style, to determine who plays who, and where. If a game ends in a draw after the requisite 90 minutes plus stoppage time, a replay is held a few days later at the other team's ground. Until 1993, replays could be endless: In 1979, Arsenal, the North London club I support, and Sheffield Wednesday had to play 5 times, going to a 4th Replay, in the 3rd Round, before Arsenal finally won. (Arsenal also won last season -- that's their manager, Arsene Wenger, hoisting the trophy in the photo above.) Now, if the replay also ends in a draw, it goes to extra time. If the score is still level, a penalty shootout is held.

The first round of any kind, held this past weekend of August 16, was the Extra Preliminary Round, reducing the number of participating teams from 736 to 552. The Preliminary Round, held on the weekend of August 30, dropped it to 392. The 1st Round Qualifying, held the weekend of September 13, dropped it to 276. The 2nd Round Qualifying, held the weekend of September 27, dropped it to 196. The 3rd Round Qualifying, held the weekend of October 11, dropped it to 156. The 4th Round Qualifying, held the weekend of October 25, dropped it to 124.

The 1st Round Proper was held on the weekend of November 8, leaving 80 teams still eligible at the end. Norton United and Warrington Town were the lowest remaining teams, both in the 8th division. The 2nd Round was played on the weekend of December 6, dropping the total of remaining eligible teams to 64. Warrington Town had survived the 1st Round, and were now the lowest-ranking team still in it.

Then comes the big day, the 1st Saturday in January (unless New Year's Day falls on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday): FA Cup Third Round Day (or, rather, weekend). The Premier League teams are now in it, and it becomes like the opening weekend of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, a.k.a. "March Madness" -- except this English madness goes on all year long (except in the summer, and the men who play the games actually get paid.

"It comes again and again. There's always another season. You lose the Cup Final in May? Well, there's the 3rd Round to look forward to in January. What's wrong with that? It's actually rather comforting, when you think of it."
-- Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

The 3rd Round Proper was played on the weekend of January 3. Blyth Spartans, a club from Blyth, Northumberland, in England's North-East (never one word, "Northeast"), competing in the 7th division, were the lowest-ranked remaining team. Only 4 of the 32 games featured a team from a lower division beating a team from a higher one, and only 1 of those featured a team beating a team 2 or more divisions higher: Queens Park Rangers (QPR for short), a West London side in the Premier League, fell to Yorkshire-based League One side Sheffield United. (To be fair, Sheff U did reach the Semifinals last season.)

The most talked-about 3rd Round tie (and I don't mean "game ending with the scores equal," although that was also a factor) was between West Ham United and Everton. The match was at Everton's Goodison Park, northeast of downtown Liverpool (but don't call them "a Liverpool side," as Liverpool Football Club are their arch-rivals), and ended 1-1. The replay was held at Upton Park, West Ham's home in London's East End, and that ended 2-2 after extra time. It went to a penalty shootout, and after the usual 5 rounds, it was still tied. Eventually, even each side's goalkeeper (not "goaltender" like in hockey) had to take his turn, and West Ham's keeper Adrian San Miguel both scored his and stopped his opponent's, and West Ham won the penalty shootout 9-8.

Everton had "crashed out of the cup." West Ham had experiencd "the Magic of the FA Cup."

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The 4th Round began on Friday, with 32 teams left. The lowest-ranked remaining team, League Two (4th division) side Cambridge United of Cambridgeshire, played the 1st game of the weekend, home to Manchester United, the most successful club in English history, but in a down period since the 2013 retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Ironically, Man U's manager before the gum-chomping Scot was Ron Atkinson, who had gotten Cambridge (a.k.a. the U's) to their highest point ever, the old 2nd Division, in the late 1970s. The U's held Man U to a 0-0 draw. Only a few years ago, Cambridge U was in danger of going out of business. Now, they will play a 4th Round replay against Manchester United at Old Trafford, in front of 75,000 fans. Their own Abbey Stadium seats 8,127. Since the visiting team takes 40 percent of the gate receipts from FA Cup ties, Cambridge U will make £1.7 million -- roughly the same as their operating budget for an entire season.

But "the Magic of the FA Cup" was just getting warmed up. Yesterday, Premier League leaders Chelsea, playing at home at Stamford Bridge in West London, blew a 2-0 lead over 3rd division side Bradford City, and lost, 3-2 thanks to 2 late goals. (To be fair, Bradford did make it to the Final of the League Cup 2 seasons ago.)

Second-place Manchester City, playing at home at the Etihad Stadium, lost 2-0 to North-East-based Championship side Middlesbrough. Third-place Southampton, playing at home at St. Mary's Stadium on the Hampshire coast, lost 3-2 to Southeast London side Crystal Palace.

Tottenham Hotspur, "the other club in North London," playing at home at White Hart Lane, blew a 1-0 lead and lost 2-1 on a stoppage-time (92nd minute) goal to Leicester City, a side newly promoted this season and in danger of relegation. And Liverpool, next to Man United the most successful British club, playing at home at Anfield, could only muster a 0-0 draw against Manchester-area Championship side Bolton Wanderers.

If you don't love the FA Cup, check your pulse, because you might well be dead.

Arsenal play tomorrow, away to Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion. Three other games will be played tomorrow, with at least 4 replays to be played in early February.

The remaining 16 teams will play in the 5th Round, on the weekend of February 14. That will get it down to 8, for the 6th Round (usually not called "the Quarterfinals") on the weekend of March 7. The Semifinals have traditionally been held at neutral sites, and since the 2007 opening of the new Wembley Stadium in London, they've been held there, and will be again on April 18 and 19. The Final will be held at Wembley on May 30 (which is unusually late).

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Higher-ranked teams are known as "giants," lower-ranked teams as "minnow," and upsets as "cup shocks."

Top 10 FA Cup Shocks, 1871 to 2014

Honorable Mention: 2007-08, pretty much the entire tournament. Hampshire-based Havant & Waterlooville got into the 3rd Round Proper, despite being in the 6th division. They beat 2nd-division Swansea City. In the 4th Round, they gave Liverpool a scare by leading twice, before losing 5-2. Staffordshire club Chasetown reachd the 3rd Round Proper, despite being in the 8th division, the lowest club ever to get that far. But they lost to Cardiff City.

Barnsley, in the 3rd division, upset 2nd division Blackpool in the 3rd Round, the Southend United away in the 4th, went to Anfield and beat Liverpool in the 5th, and defeated mighty Chelsea at home in the Quarterfinal, before falling to Cardiff in the Semifinal.

Cardiff, in the 2nd division, beat top-flight Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 5th Round, and top-flight Middlesbrough in the Quarterfinal, before beating Barnsley, to become the 1st Welsh club, the 1st club from outside England, to reach the Final since Cardiff themselves in 1927.

And Hampshire-based Portsmouth stunned Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Quarterfinal, and beat West Bromswich Albion in the Semifinal, to set up the unlikeliest Final in perhaps the history of the tournament. Portsmouth won, 1-0, on Nwankwo Kanu's goal in the 37th minute.

Honorable Mention. March 31, 1894, Final: Notts County over Bolton Wanderers, 4-1. County, from Nottingham, were the 1st club from outside Division One to win the Cup, beating the Manchester-area Wanderers. Of all the English clubs that have won at least 1 major trophy, County have the longest drought: That Cup win, 121 years ago, remains their last.

Honorable Mention. April 20, 1901, Final: Tottenham Hotspur over Sheffield United. "Spurs," then in the Southern League, won the Final in a replay, and were the 1st team from outside the Football League to win the Cup, as their fans never cease to remind everyone else. The Southern League was, then, roughly equivalent to the 3rd division.

Honorable Mention. April 25, 1908, Final: Wolverhampton Wanderers over Newcastle United, 3-1. "Wolves," from the West Midlands, were in the middle of the 2nd division, while Newcastle finished 4th in the 1st, had won the League the year before, and were in their 3rd Final in 4 years -- losing them all.

Honorable Mention. April 24, 1912, Final: Barnsley over West Bromwich Albion, 1-0. Truly the latest goal in FA Cup Final history: In the 118th minute of a replay, Harry Tufnell scores to lead the 2nd division Yorkshire side over the top-flight West Midlands club. (West Brom and Wolves, arch-rivals, both play in "the Black Country," and their games are known as "the Black Country Derby.") Barnsley have never won another major trophy, 103 years later.

Honorable Mention. April 23, 1927, Final: Cardiff City over Arsenal, 1-0. This wasn't a huge upset: Both clubs were in the 1st division, and each had finished 2nd recently: Arsenal the season before, 3 years before. Just 2 years before, Cardiff became the 1st Welsh club to reach the Final -- with a couple of Scottish exceptions in the 1880s, they'd otherwise been all English teams.

In the 74th minute, Hughie Ferguson shot for the Bluebirds, and Arsenal keeper Dan Lewis corralled it, but it squeezed under his elbow and into the net. Cardiff remain the only club from outside England ever to win the FA Cup -- and, unless you count the subesequent Charity Shield, have never won another major trophy.

Honorable Mention. April 25, 1931, Final: West Bromwich Albion over Birmingham City, 2-1. After being the top-flight shocked in the 1912 Final, this time, the "Baggies" were the 2nd-division shockers.

Honorable Mention. January 29, 1949, 4th Round: Yeovil Town over Sunderland, 2-1. Yeovil may be the biggest club in Somerset in the West Country, but they were then in the 4th division. Sunderland, of the North-East, had been a power since the late 1920s. But, having already beaten Bury in the 3rd Round, Yeovil had no fear, and beat the "Mackems." In the 5th Round, Cup holders Manchester United put a crushing 8-0 end to their dream.

Honorable Mention. May 1, 1976, Final: Southampton over Manchester United, 1-0. The Hampshire "Saints," then in the 2nd division, won their 1st major trophy when Bobby Stokes scored in the 83rd minute to beat the Cup holders. In 40 years, they have never won another.

Honorable Mention. May 10, 1980, Final: West Ham United over Arsenal, 1-0. This all-London match was supposed to be a mismatch: The Hammers were in the 2nd division, while Arsenal were in their 3rd straight FA Cup Final (having lost to Ipswich Town in 1978 and dramatically beaten Manchester United in 1979), and were about to play the European Cup Winners' Cup Final in 4 days. But Trevor Brooking scored for West Ham, and they took the Cup.

They remain the last team from outside the top flight to win it. Arsenal would lose their European final on penalties to Spanish club Valencia. But they have won several major trophies since. West Ham have won none, unless you count the 1999 Intertoto Cup.

Honorable Mention. January 7, 1984, 3rd Round: AFC Bournemouth over Manchester United, 2-0. If Man U were the club that they would become in the 1990s, this would have been a much bigger upset. As it was, United were the Cup holders. But Bournemouth, the biggest club in Dorset but only a 3rd division side, knocked them out. It was the first big win for Bournemouth's manager, whose career would be filled with amazing highs and disgraceful lows: Harry Redknapp.

Honorable Mention. January 7, 1989, 3rd Round: Sutton United over Coventry City, 2-1. Sutton is in Southwest London, Coventry in the West Midlands. This remains the last time a non-league side (5th division or lower) knocked out a top-flight team. This would be in the Top 10 if Coventry had been a more successful club.

Honorable Mention. January 27, 2001, 4th Round: West Ham United over Manchester United, 1-0. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Man U, dominant in English football since 1993, had hosted the Hammers in League play, and clobbered them. Now, the Eastenders, managed by the aforementioned Redknapp (who had played for them in the 1960s and '70s), had to go back to Old Trafford and play the most-loved, and most-hated, sports team on planet Earth. (Yes, more loved and more hated than the Yankees.)

But the game jas still scoreless in the 2nd half, when West Ham's insane Italian striker, Paolo Di Canio, took a pass, and charged toward the goal. Fabien Barthez, keeper for the France team that was the current holders of both the World Cup and the European Championship, stuck his hand up, to signal to the linesmen that Di Canio was offside. So did several other United players. But the linesmen's flags stayed up, and Di Canio just plainly booted it past Barthez.

West Ham hung on for the 1-0 win, and the game became known as "Taxi for Barthez!" (While "Taxi for... " is a common phrase for a player who's been made to look like a fool, with that hand in the air, he really did look like he was hailing a cab.)

Now for the Top 10. I'll list these in chronological order.

1. January 14, 1933, 3rd Round: Walsall over Arsenal, 2-0. Arsenal were top of the League, had finished runners-up in both League and Cup the season before, won the League the season before that, and won the Cup the season before that. Walsall were in the 3rd division.

But when Herbert Chapman, the manager who revolutionized English football, took his team to Fellows Park in the West Midlands, he rested some of his key players, to keep them fresh for the League season. He paid for that in the short term, as Walsall pulled off the biggest upset in FA Cup history to that point. But it worked in the long run, as Arsenal won the next 3 League titles.

Half a century later, in the fall of 1983, Walsall shocked Arsenal again, this time in the League Cup.

2. February 15, 1964, 5th Round: Oxford United over Blackburn Rovers, 3-1. Oxford were struggling to avoid relegation from the 4th division, and thus out of the League entirely. Yet they beat Folkestone in the 1st Round, Kettering Town in the 2nd, Chesterfield in the 3rd, then beat Brentford away in a replay in the 4th. Lancashire club Blackburn finished 7th in the 1st division, but Oxford beat them, too.

Another Lancashire club, 2nd division Preston North End, eliminated them in the Quarterfinals, going on their own unlikely run, beat Welsh club Swansea Town (now Swansea City) in the Semifinal, before losing to West Ham United in the Final.

3. February 13, 1971, 5th Round: Colchester United. over Leeds United. Leeds rose out of the 2nd division under manager Don Revie, and were runners-up in both the League and the FA Cup Final in 1965, won the League Cup in 1968, won the League in 1969, and lost the Cup Final in 1970. In 1971, they were dueling with Arsenal for the League title. Colchester, out of Essex? They were in the 4th division. No way were they going to take down Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Norman "Bites Yer Legs" Hunter. Yet they did.

Everton beat them in the next round. Leeds blew the League title to Arsenal, who won the Cup to "do The Double." Leeds beat Arsenal in the next season's Final, but blew the League again. The next year...

Honorable Mention. May 5, 1973, Final: Sunderland over Leeds United, 1-0. Ian Porterfield scored the goal in the 31st, and the Mackems became the 1st club from the 2nd division to win the Cup since West Brom in 1931. Cup holders Leeds were "nearly men" again. They would win the League in 1974, but lose the European Cup Final in 1975. Sunderland haven't won a major trophy in the 42 years since.

Earlier, I compared the FA Cup to "March Madness." Well, 10 years before North Carolina State won the National Championship and coach Jim Valvano ran around the court "looking for somebody to hug," Mackem manager Bob Stokoe did much the same thing.

4. February 5, 1972, 3rd Round Replay: Hereford United over Newcastle United, 2-1. This shouldn't have even gotten to a replay. North-East club Newcastle, led by striker Malcolm Macdonald, a.k.a. Supermac, were top-flight perennials. Hereford, in the West Country hard by the border with Wales, were in the 5th division. Yet they worked a draw against the "Geordies," setting up a replay at their ground, Edgar Street, which could hold only 14,313, about one-third of what Newcastle's St. James Park could then hold.

"The Toon" took a 1-0 lead, but a couple of familiar names -- well, surnames -- did the business for the Bulls. Ronnie Radford scored the equaliser, and Ricky George the winner. It was noted that they had the same names as Arsenal's strikers, John Radford (who had assisted the Cup-winning goal the season before) and Charlie George (who had scored it). Hereford then took West Ham to a replay in the 4th Round, before bowing out against Bobby Moore and the "Irons." But, due to its constant replaying in the opening sequence of BBC's Match of the Day, Ricky George's goal remains iconic.

Sadly, due to financial irregularities, Hereford United, in League One (the 3rd division) as recently as 2009, were kicked out of the Conference (5th Division) last season, and then went out of business. Newcastle reached the Final again in 1974, but lost to Liverpool. They lost the Final in back-to-back seasons, 1998 and '99, and haven't won the Cup since 1955.

5. January 4, 1975, 3rd Round: Wimbledon over Burnley, 1-0. The Southwest London club were in the 5th division, yet they won away to the 1st division side from Lancashire. It was the 1st time in 55 years that a non-league side beat a top-flight team away. Then, in the 4th Round, they went to Elland Road, and played Leeds to a draw, before falling at home in the replay. They were elected to the League 2 years later.

Honorable Mention. May 14, 1988, Final: Wimbledon over Liverpool, 1-0. In just 13 years, the "Wombles" had gone from non-league shockers to a 1st division side producing perhaps the most shocking FA Cup Final of all. Lawrie Sanchez stunned newly-crowned League Champions Liverpool in the 37th. But on the hour, Liverpool were awarded what replays showed was a bogus penalty, and from Southampton on up to Newcastle, English footy fans were saying, "Liverpool get all the breaks, bloody typical!"

Except Dave Beasant stopped John Aldridge's spot-kick, making him the 1st goalkeeper ever to deny a penalty kick in an FA Cup Final. When it was over, Beasant had also become the 1st goalie who was also the Captain of an FA Cup-winning side, and BBC broadcaster John Motson, noting Wimbledon's aggressive attitude, exemplified by eventual tough-guy actor Vinny Jones, "The Crazy Gang have defeated the Culture Club!" Motty made up the name, but Wimbledon were the Crazy Gang for years to come.

6. January 8, 1980, 3rd Round Replay: Harlow Town over Leicester City, 1-0. Harlow were in Essex, and in the 6th division, but beat Southend United in the 2nd Round, before going to Filbert Street and playing Leicester to a draw, and then winning the replay at home. The dream ended the next round, away to Elton John-owned Hertfordshire club Watford.

7. January 4, 1992, 3rd Round: Wrexham over Arsenal, 2-1. To fans of The Arsenal, a.k.a. the Gunners -- the fans are called Gooners -- this trip to the Racecourse Ground in North Wales is known as The Wrexham Disaster. Always Capital T, Capital W, Capital D.

They blew a 1-0 lead, and the winning goal was scored late for 4th division Wrexham by 37-year-old Welsh thug (and soon-to-be convicted felon) Micky Thomas -- not to be confused with the Michael "Mickey" Thomas who scored the goal that won Arsenal the League in 1989. Gooners who want Wenger out forget that he's never lost in the 3rd Round -- in fact, this was the last time it's happened, and it happened under their golden boy, George Graham.

8. January 4, 2003, 3rd Round: Shrewsbury Town over Everton, 2-1. Everton have spent more seasons in the 1st division than any other club. Shrewsbury were then in the 4th division, 80 places below the "Toffees." Yet they pulled off the victory -- managed by Kevin Ratcliffe, a former Everton captain. But they were mauled by Chelsea in the 4th Round, and were relegated out of the League, following their greatest achievement with their greatest shame, just 4 months later.

9. April 10, 2010, Semifinal: Portsmouth over Tottenham Hotspur, 2-0. "Pompey" had won the Cup in 2008, managed by, yes, Harry Redknapp. But, as he had done to Portsmouth before, as he had done to their arch-rivals Southampton, and as he had done to West Ham, left for what seemed like a better job, leaving a financial wreck behind. Only in Pompey's case, "wreck" was every bit as literal as it was figurative: He had bought the club its 1st major trophy since the 1950 League title, the only top-flight trophy he has ever won in 30 years as a manager, at the cost of a financial meltdown that saw them put into administration, docked points, and relegated in 2010, '11 and '12, all the way from the Premier League to League Two. Twice in that period, they came within mere hours of going out of business, before the cash necessary to keep them afloat was found.

Yet in the 2010 FA Cup, they beat Coventry City away in a 3rd Round Replay, beat Sunderland in the 4th Round, then beat hated Southampton away in the 5th Round, and stunned Birmingham City in the Quarterfinal. In the Semifinal, their first trip to Wembley (old or new) since the 1939 FA Cup Final (which they won), who did they face? Tottenham, who were about to finish 4th in the League, and clinch their 1st berth in the European Cup/Champions League in 49 years. The manager who took perennially underachieving "Spurs" to this point? None other than Redknapp himself. And Wembley is only across town from Tottenham, while it's over 100 miles from Portsmouth.

But Pompey held Spurs to a scoreless draw, and scored 2 extra time goals, starting Redknapp's infamous twitching, and showing Spurs to be a choking team as usual: They haven't won a major trophy since the 1991 FA Cup, and haven't even been to an FA Cup Final since then, 0-3 in Semifinals in those 24 years. Against all odds, they were in their 2nd FA Cup Final in 3 seasons. But they lost to Chelsea, and their freefall was underway.

Redknapp left Spurs in a mess in 2012, but not like he did to Pompey, who remain in League Two -- but at least now they have stable ownership, and won't be relegated out of the League entirely.

10. May 11, 2013, Final: Wigan Athletic over Manchester City, 1-0. Wigan, from outside Manchester, had reached the Premier League in 2004, and had just barely avoided relegation a few times. This time, they didn't. And Man City were the defending Premier League Champions, and had won the Cup 2 years earlier. So they were heavily favored. But Ben Watson, who came on in the 81st minute, scored in stoppage time to produce the biggest Final upset since Wimbledon 25 years earlier.

The following season, the same clubs met in the Quarterfinal, and Wigan beat Man City again, and nearly beat Arsenal in the Semifinal, taking a 1-0 lead on a penalty before allowing an equaliser and losing on penalties.