Today, March 2nd, is the beginning of our sports fact of the day column. The column will contain interesting facts, statistics, and anecdotes from the history of sports that pertain to the number of the day. In other words, each day has been assigned a numerical value with January 1 assigned 1 and December 31st 365. Because today is March 2nd, we will be starting with the number 61.
The facts chosen for each day are ones that I personally found interesting, that surprised me, or were related to monumental achievements that simply required recognition. I hope that you enjoy reading the facts each day as much as I have enjoyed writing them, and that you learn something new in the process. Please feel free to send in your favorite bit of sports trivia as I would love to incorporate it into my column. Thoughts or suggestions can be sent to @matthewzinner on twitter.
In 1961 Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record by a single home run. Maris’ record mark of 61 homers in a season was later broken, by Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa, but all three men were tainted by allegations of steroid use. As such, many baseball purist consider Maris the true record holder. However, that was not always the case. Per Baseball Almanac Maris’ pursuit of the record was viewed with disdain by the contemporary media. The stress of the season caused Maris to lose his hair, and at the end of the season the commissioner of baseball remarked that the achievement was meaningless because Maris played more games than Ruth. But while commissioner Ford Frick (what a name) may have felt that way, I think that Maris deserves to have his day and takeplug is here to give it to him.
(March 3rd)-Our sports fact of the day for March 3rd takes us back to 1875. In 1875 may be known for Alexander Graham Bell’s telegraph or the criminal escapades of Jesse James and Boss Tweed, but it should also be known for being the year of the first indoor hockey game. Thats right, today is the 142nd anniversary of the day hockey left the ponds of Canada for Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink. The game was also one of the first to be played with an official set of rules and referees. In the nearly century and a half since ice hockey has grown into one of the world’s most popular sports. Over the last decade though, the NHL has reversed the trend by promoting outdoor games as part of its Winter Classic series. So for all the hockey fans out there or people just looking for an excuse to celebrate, mark down March 3rd on your calendar. Per (sb nation and on this day)
The jersey number worn by Willie Lanier during his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Lanier helped break the NFL’s color barrier as the first African-American player to play middle linebacker in the league. Much like quarterbacks would experience later, there was a bias at the time that African-Americans were only capable of playing certain positions. Lanier shattered that notion during his illustrious career by being named to 6 pro bowls before being inducted into the NFL hall of fame in 1986. Lanier’s 63 jersey was required by the Kansas City Chiefs as recognition for all he contributed to the franchise and the NFL as a whole. Lanier can now be comforted by the fact that he has sole possession of Takeplug’s fact of the day number 63. (per Sports Illustrated)
With March upon us it is appropriate that days number, 64, is related to March Madness. I miss the simpler times when the NCAA tournament contained a solid 64 teams. Four brackets of sixteen teams. Eight squared. Five less than Rob Gronkowski’s favorite number. 64 is a solid number. Recently the NCAA tournament has expanded its field to 68 teams, including a “first four” tournament. But for me this is a separate event to help us reach the 64 team tournament. No one skips work or school to watch the first four, they play hooky to watch the true 64 team tournament. And what a tournament it is. The first weekend of the event is easily one of the top sports weekends of the year, providing upsets, intrigue, and Duke losing. And while we are about a month away from the title game, I want to be on record with my completely unbiased pick that UNC will be cutting down the nets in Phoenix.
March 6, 1964 Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, announced that Cassius Clay would be known as Muhammad Ali moving forward. Fresh off becoming world heavy-weight champion, Ali’s decision sent shockwaves through the world. The American media was particularly slow to accept the name change. Over the following five year’s “Clay” would appear in over 1000 headlines nationwide while “Ali” was only used about 150 times. Interestingly enough, newspapers began to print “Ali” after the conclusion of his other biggest controversy, the three and a half year absence caused by his conscientious objection of the war in Vietnam. As the American public’s opinion on the war shifted, Ali was once again embraced, this time with his name of choice. The name switch only added to the legacy of Ali, who is known for his transcendent influence outside of the ring as much as for his incredible boxing abilities. During the coverage of his death last year, Ali was widely proclaimed the most famous and influential athlete of all time, and March 6th was certainly part of that legacy.
Mario Lemieux was one of the greatest and most respected players in NHL history, and the treatment of his jersey reveals as much. One of the greatest honors in American professional sports is to have your jersey retired. Many players have had their jerseys retired by the teams they played for, and a select few, Jackie Robinson and Wayne Gretzky, have had their jerseys retried league wide. Other sports icons have had their numbers honored in different ways, NBA players wearing the number 23 jersey to honor Micheal Jordon is one example. But perhaps the most unique honor is the one bestowed upon Mario Lemieux’s number. The NHL’s league office never declared Lemieux’s number off limits, but as a sign of respect the players enacted an unofficial league wide retirement, and no NHL player currently wears the number 66. That the players took it upon themselves, perhaps without ever explicitly saying anything, to honor Lemieux’s number shows just how respected he was in the game. That type of respect is rare in any field and certainly worthy of holding down our number 66.