This is the fourth in a series of examinations of football-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous football legends.
This installment is a re-format edition, so these legends have already been posted on this site, just not in this format.
FOOTBALL LEGEND: Ronnie Lott had an injured finger/part of his injured finger amputated so that he could play in the 1986 playoffs.
Ronnie Lott was one of the best defensive players in the history of the National Football League, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000 (his first year of eligibility) and was a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.
A powerful force of nature, Lott could have been a great running back as well, that’s how talented he was, but his path to glory was on the defensive end (allegedly, when he entered college at the University of Southern California, he and future Hall of Fame running back, Marcus Allen, were both freshmen who could play safety or running back – John Robinson, coach of USC, picked safety for Lott, running back for Allen – what a great What If…? that would be, eh?). As a rookie in 1981 (he was drafted with the #8 overall pick), he played cornerback and came in second (to Lawrence Taylor – talk about a great year for rookies on defense!) in the Rookie of the Year balloting while helping his team, the San Francisco 49ers, win the Super Bowl (he ended up winning four Super Bowls with the Niners).
He switched to safety in 1985, which is the position he is most famous for. He played in the NFL until 1995, making the All-Pro team nine times (and was voted to the Pro Bowl TEN times). In his career, he had an impressive 8.5 sacks and 63 interceptions (of those, he returned a remarkable FIVE of them for touchdowns).
So yeah, Ronnie Lott was a great player, and a dedicated competitor. That brings us to a widely told story of just HOW tough Lott was.
From Howie Long and John Czarnecki’s Football For Dummies…
Once, when faced with the option of either missing the playoffs or repairing a badly broken finger, Lott opted to have a third of the finger amputated
From Michael Costa’s Tackling Life Head on: Lessons for Kids’ Lives With Ronnie Lott As "Coach….
Ronnie actually chose to have the tip of that finger amputated so that he wouldn’t miss the playoffs after the 1985 season.
This is a very popular story. Just randomly looking at the internet…
I mean does any one remember when Ronnie Lott had his finger amputated just so he could play in a playoff game?
Most of the tellings of the story match the first two examples, where it was just part of his finger, but you’ll see quite a lot of people telling the story with the FULL finger part.
It is a good story, and it is pretty much CLOSE to the truth (well, the “part of the finger” ones are close, at least), but it is not, in fact, what happened.
In the last game of the 1985 regular season, Lott attempted to tackle Dallas Cowboys running back Timmy Newsome. Lott’s pinkie finger got stuck between Newsome’s helmet and Lott’s shoulder pads. The bones on the tip of the finger were crushed.
Lott was told that his only chance of the finger ever healing would be to skip the playoffs. Lott felt that he could not miss the playoffs, so instead played the playoffs (in a lot of pain) with the shattered bone. The Niners lost to the Giants 17-3 in the game.
After the season ended, Lott had the tip of the pinkie amputated.
So, as you can see, like any good legend, there is enough true facts involved that the story has a real sense of believability.
What’s non-debatable is that Ronnie Lott was one tough guy.
FOOTBALL LEGEND: Kurt Warner refused to appear on the cover of an issue of Sports Illustrated about the supposed “Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx.”
The Sports Illustrated “Jinx” supposedly began in 1954, with the very first cover of Sports Illustrated, which featured the Milwaukee Braves’ Eddie Mathews on the cover
The Braves were on a nine-game winning streak at the time this August 16, 1954 cover went up. The Braves lost their next game on August 17 and then a week later, Mathews was hit by a pitch on his hand and missed seven games.
Some other random “examples” of the Jinx include…
Wilbur Wood, on the cover after going 13-3, proceeded to lose 8 of his next 9.
Carin Cone, unbeaten in the 100-meter backstroke leading up to the 1960 Olympic trials, failed to even qualify for the Olympics!
So back in 2002, Alexander Wolff did a feature story on the topic of the Jinx, and he basically showed that while, come on, obviously it did not seriously exist, did at least note that a sports psychologist named Jim Loehr does think that there is something to the theory that athletes DO deal with “a failure to efficiently metabolize heightened expectations,” and that appears to PERHAPS bear out in noting that the Jinx seems to apply to solo athletes, like golfers, more than athletes on teams.
But yeah, come on, jinxes don’t exist.
That said, Wolff and Sports Illustrated had a funny reaction when they had Kurt Warner agree to appear on the cover about the jinx. The idea was that he would appear with a black cat. I believe the notion was that Warner wore #13, and that did not keep him from winning a Super Bowl and two MVPs (plus one of the more dramatic career turnarounds, going from stocking shelves in Cedar Falls to winning a Super Bowl within five year’s time).
However, Warner decided to back out, so the cover of the issue in question, in January of 2002, had the following cover…
FOOTBALL LEGEND: In back-to-back years, two separate Canadian football teams drafted dead players.
In 1993, the Canadian Football League tried out something that had been relatively successful for Major League Baseball in the past, expanding past their own country. In 1993, the CFL added an expansion team from the United States, the Sacramento Gold Miners. The next year, the CFL added the Las Vegas Posse, the Shreveport Pirates, and the Baltimore Colts (later Baltimore Stallions).
However, after just one disappointing season, the Las Vegas Posse folded.
Their players were then entered into a dispersal draft in April 1995.
The Ottawa Rough Riders (a team founded in 1876) drafted Posse defensive end Derrell Robertson.
The only problem was that Robertson had died in a car accident in December of 1994.
Ottawa’s head coach Jim Gilstrap remarked at the time of the discovery of Robertson’s death “the league didn’t know he was dead until we told them, and we didn’t know until we couldn’t find him.”
Ottawa ended up folding after 121 seasons in 1996.
By the end of the 1995 season, the CFL USA experiment had come to a close, and while most of the teams folded, the Baltimore Stallions owner, irked at the idea of competing with the Baltimore Ravens (who had moved there that season) moved the team to Montreal and re-named them the Montreal Alouettes.
In the March 1996 Canadian college draft, the Alouettes drafted defensive end James Eggink of Northern Illinois in the fifth round.
Again, the only problem was that Eggink had died of cancer in December of 1995. Lightning had somehow struck twice! Speros was quoted as saying, “I’m upset and embarrassed as an owner. The research process can be very difficult.” John Tory, then Chairman of the CFL, said of his teams, “I would think the first qualification they might want to come up with is that the person’s alive.”
Speros sold the team in 1996.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com