CHEEKTOWAGA, NY – In Buffalo, they’re called “Subs.” In Philadelphia, they’re “Grinders.” In Providence the locals call them “Hoagies.” But here in New York they are called “Heroes.“
The word “hero” is thrown about so liberally these days that it has almost lost its meaning entirely. As the World celebrates Christmas Eve tonight, it is an appropriate time for a refresher on what and whom represents a real hero and what and whom most certainly does not.
I’ve heard Golf Commentators refer to guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as “heroes” in that they often take “courageous” shots on the golf course. So Tiger, who’s contributed about as much to society as his hero Michael Jordan (which is to say absolutely nothing) and Phil Mickelson; whose own heroic rise from the ashes included one semester at public school while beating the odds of a hardscrabble childhood spent in LaJolla. Legend has it that when Phil was coming up, he once had to play at a Club that had an African American member.
Kobe Bryant’s battle back from a torn Achilles was described as heroic; and stunning for his singular focus. Yet, Terrell Thomas of the New York Giants has been a terrific story having come back and played well after a 3rd Torn ACL. Moose Johnston called his return to the field courageous and inspiring. Imagine if he was a Cowboy! Peyton Manning came back from serious spinal fusion surgery to accolades that cited everything from his heroic focus to his unmatched commitment, to his unparalleled inner strength.
Peyton Manning is a hero if you like your heroes passing down-field on every down with 30-point leads… Very recently Alex Rodriguez cited his concern for all future “juicers” who would come after him-and wanted to make sure “they” wouldn’t suffer the persecution he has.
So, forgive me if I don’t view these guys as heroes in any sense of the word. But perhaps my All-Time Favorite Hero of the sports world is none other than last time Hall of Fame-eligible Jack Morris. Now, I actually believe Morris should be in the Hall; he was a true Ace and the bigger the game, the better he pitched. He was probably the best big-game pitcher in Baseball for a 10-year period from the early 80s to the early 90s. But what I remember most profoundly about Jack Morris was his heroic crusade after the 1987 season. This was the year of Collusion in MLB and the year that Andre Dawson told the Cubs to fill in a blank check with whatever number they thought fair because he wanted to play for Chicago-dollars be damned. But Jack Morris took home the hubris award that year when he compared himself to Jackie Robinson! Not happy with the number of millions being offered for Morris’s services, old Jack proclaimed “Now I know what Jackie Robinson went through!” By the way he made this comment while wearing a full length fur coat – similar to one worn by Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2.
Enough about these guys. You want heroes from the sports world who should be remembered this time of year? Try these dudes:
Pat Tillman: what more needs to be said. Selfless patriot who gave his life for his country.
Joe Delaney: Probably the least told story about a genuine hero. 30 years ago he burst onto the NFL scene with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for the KC Chiefs. That off-season, Joe spotted three kids drowning in a lake near his home. Joe didn’t know how to swim. At all. In fact, he had a phobia of water. That didn’t stop Joe from jumping in and rescuing three boys from certain death. Those 3 kids survived. Joe Delaney did not. That’s a hero.
Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter who ever lived, the last man to hit .400 and a member of 2 Halls of Fame, Ted was the Splendid Splinter alright and literally wrote the book on hitting that many coaches still cite as the best book ever written on the topic. What you may not know is that 2 years after he batted .406 for the Red Sox in 1941, Williams went into the Navy and served 3 years as a fighter pilot. His first year back home was 1946. He won the batting title and the MVP award. In 1952, he again voluntarily re-joined the Navy and spent another two years as a fighter pilot in Korea. He came back from that military service to win 2 more Batting Titles, including one at age 40. He flew 39 successful combat missions across two wars.
Roberto Clemente: Can anyone picture Carmelo Anthony or A-Rod jumping on a rickety old single engine plain in bad weather so that he could personally hand deliver food and supplies to an Earthquake ravaged country on New Years Eve? Me neither. Selfless, heroic. Clemente overcame racism, poverty and language to become a Hall of Famer on and off the playing field.
BTW… if you can name the “other” Hall of Fame to which Ted Williams was enshrined, consider yourself a Grinder or a Hoagie… But “Hero” is reserved for the truly special.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Come back tomorrow for our St. Nick, Angry Ward.