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 that 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: Most of 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 without a Playoff.

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, with no reason to be suspended from baseball in 1990 and thus still in full charge, 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 bare-bones lame-duck setup 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 combined. 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 (it was offside), 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 Campbell (contract ran out, wanted out, was not re-signed, although returned in the 2010-11 season), Dennis Bergkamp (retired), Robert Pires (contract ran out, not re-signed) and Ashley Cole (wanted out because he thought he was underpaid at £55,000 a week, sold to free-spending Chelsea).

The players that were meant to, essentially, replace those guys didn't get the job done: William Gallas wasn't even close to Sol, 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, and Gael Clichy was all right at left back but was no Cole. 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.

1 comment:

JBsptfn said...

1. It would have been nice if the Bucks won in 74. Oscar was a great player. However, two rings in Milwaukee probably doesn't change Kareem's mind about wanting out of there, unfortunately.

2. A final that I would have liked to have seen end differently in the NHL is the 1995 Stanley Cup. If the Wings win, maybe the trap doesn't catch on as much, and the Dead Puck Era may be averted.

3. Another NHL Final that should have ended differently is the 71 Stanley Cup. The Hawks should have won that series.