Sunday, April 13, 2003

Painful moments in Cincy sports

Griffey's injury is the latest in a long line of heartbreaks

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The injury of Ken Griffey Jr. last Saturday, following a blisteringly optimistic spring for The Kid, reminded many Cincinnati fans how unfair sports can be. Most who follow the Reds were praying for an injury-free 2003 for Junior like Lee Greenwood prays for U.S.-led military action.

But it appears - for one of those at least - that it was not to be. It will not be the last time Cincinnati sports fanatics will have their hearts broken. And it certainly was not the first.

There have been many such moments over the years. The following is a sampling.

Last-second heartbreakers

West Virginia buzzer-beater, 1998: Jarrod West's 3-pointer off the backboard for the 10-seed Mountaineers sent the second-seeded Bearcats home in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. For Bob Huggins, a WVU graduate, it was kind of a Michael-Fredo "you broke my heart" moment from The Godfather Part II.

Lenny Brown, 1997 Crosstown Shootout: Brown's jumper left only half of Cincinnati college basketball fans heartbroken, downing the No. 1-ranked Bearcats 71-69 at Shoemaker Center.

John Taylor touchdown, 1989 Super Bowl: Cincinnati went from world champ to Joe Montana victim quicker than Bengals fans could say "this decade of humiliation has ruined my love of football and sucked my will to see it live or on television."

Heartbreaking injuries

Ken Griffey Jr., 2001-present: How unfair is this?

Ki-Jana Carter, 1995: The first overall pick was supposed to deliver us from David Klingler and help turn around an ailing franchise. Instead, the running back suffered a season-ending and career-altering knee injury on his third preseason carry. And yes, that was eight years ago.

Tom Browning, 1994: The lefty was one of the most beloved Reds of the '80s and '90s. But the last pitch Browning threw in a Cincinnati uniform broke his arm - a horrific injury that also broke the hearts of many Reds fans.

Greg Cook, 1969: The Bengals rookie quarterback led them to a 3-0 start but hurt his shoulder in a game against Kansas City. He came back and was named AFL Rookie of the Year, but was never the same and out of the game within five years.

Bill Walsh, many years later, was quoted as saying Greg Cook was the best QB talent he had ever seen. We know, Bill. You like to hurt Bengals fans. We get it.

Questionable-call heartbreakers

Xavier bubble burst, 1999: Despite a 21-10 record and coach Skip Prosser's reassurance that his team deserved a bid, the Musketeers were shut out of the NCAA Tournament in the senior seasons of Lenny Brown, Gary Lumpkin and James Posey.

Ricardo Williams Jr., 2000 Olympics: The boxer from the West End put on a flurry in the fourth and final round in his gold-medal match but lost the fight. Following the fight, officials, reporters and fighters questioned how many of Williams' clean punches were scored.

World Series play at the plate, 1970: In Game 1 of the series, Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks tagged the Reds' Bernie Carbo with an empty glove, but Carbo was called out in a 4-3 Reds loss.

Heartbreaking upsets

Crosstown Shootout, 1999: No. 1 again, the Bearcats again found themselves two-point losers to the Muskies 66-64.

NCAA national title game, 1963: Heavily favored UC blew a 15-point second half lead and a chance for a three-peat, losing 60-58 in overtime to Loyola-Chicago.

Never-had-a-chance heartbreakers

1961 World Series: Whitey Ford held the Redlegs to two hits in the opener and the Yankees took the series in game five 13-5.

1982 Super Bowl: The 26-20 final score makes the game look close. The 49ers, however, were comfortably ahead 20-0 at halftime, as Montana found his knack for embarrassing the Bengals on the world's biggest stage.

Oh-so-close heartbreakers

Ezzard Charles vs. Rocky Marciano, 1954: Marciano, the only undefeated heavyweight champ of all time, had two of his closest fights against the "Cincinnati Cobra," both within a year.

In their first meeting, the champ won a close decision. In the rematch, Charles split Marciano's nose, threatening a stoppage. Marciano, however, felt the urgency and scored an eighth-round knockout.

Ron Robinson, 1988: The "True Creature" was within one strike of a perfect game when Expos pinch hitter Wallace Johnson singled. Tim Raines then homered, and Robinson needed relief help in the Reds' 3-2 win.

Mario Soto, 1984: Soto came within one strike of a no-hitter, yet failed to get the no-no or the shutout when St. Louis Cardinal George Hendrick homered to tie the score at 1. Luckily for Soto, the Reds rallied in the bottom of the ninth to win 2-1.

Heartbreaking departures

Royals, 1972: Two years after trading Oscar Robertson, the franchise made a 13-year stop in Kansas City as the Kings before settling in Sacramento.

The Big Red Machine, 1978-80: Tony Perez was traded to Montreal in 1977; Sparky Anderson was fired in 1978 after back-to-back second-place finishes; Pete Rose signed with Philadelphia in 1978; Joe Morgan signed with Houston in 1980.

Tony Perez fired, 1993: After a 20-24 start to his managerial career, the Reds got rid of Perez for a second time. Seven years later, the Big Dog, apparently a glutton for punishment, returned to see his jersey retired.

Crosley Field, 1970: When Riverfront Stadium opened, the old yard became an auto impound for two years.

Boomer Esiason, 1993: Esiason was traded to the Jets and wound up in Arizona before making a popular return to the Queen City.

Pete Rose ban, 1989: Let's not even talk about this one. Still stings pretty bad.

Sam Wyche, Christmas Eve, 1991: Fired? Resigned? No one really knows. What most do know, however, is that he could have guided the boys to a better record than 52-124 over the last 11 seasons.

Bill Buckner-type heartbreakers

Lewis Billups, 1989 Super Bowl: With the Bengals up seven, Billups let what could have been a momentum-seizing interception slip through his fingers in the end zone. On the very next play, Joe Montana threw a 14-yard TD strike to Jerry Rice to tie the game at 13.

Ernie Lombardi, 1939 World Series: In Game 4 the Reds catcher was stunned during a collision at home plate, allowing two more Yankee runs - including the go-ahead tally - to score in the four-game sweep.


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Baseball Team Rankings
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Popular choices in the draft and how they fared
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Bengals Q&A: Money available for free agents

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Masters Scoreboard
Masters Notebook: Els has big hill to climb
Amateur hour goes on for trio

Defense stars in Miami spring game

Ford beats West for Wooden Award
Ohio State, Dayton to play in Maui

Duncan makes MVP case on court
Jordan, Wizards didn't mix well

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Peace Rules wins Blue Grass Stakes
Blue Grass Notebook
Wood win perfect Derby tuneup

Painful moments in Cincy sports
Enquirer Power Rankings
College Update: UC hurdler among world's best
Sports on TV-Radio

Saturday's high school results
High School Insider
Kentucky Insider