Feats Of Sport: The Ones That Make You Shiver

Frank RederContributor IJanuary 24, 2009

What makes a legend? What changes a man standing on a stretch of grass into thunderclap that reverberates in the halls of history for many years after he's gone?

Is it that sport reaches out to us on some long-forgotten level? Is it that sport stirs the fire of competition in the deep recesses of our mind?

Or is that sport resonates with the same characteristics of the human condition we experience every day?  The thrill of success, the agony of failure, the pure bliss of a long struggle with comrades coming to fruition.

This connects us.

It connects us in ways that only a true fan can appreciate.  It's the way Jordan seems to hang in the air as if suspended by a string.

It's the way Nolan Ryan's fastball pops in the catcher's mitt just a little louder than anyone else's.  It's the way the way the greatest always seem to find the big moment and rise up.

It's the way the every hair on your body stands on end as you watch someone accomplish the unthinkable.

As I see it, these are four of the most amazing feats of sport, the ones that never fail to send a shiver down your spine.

No. 4: UCLA wins 88 in a row from 1971 to 1974

The John Wooden-era UCLA men's basketball teams introduced the world of team sports to the word dominance.  Simply put, they were the most unbeatable assemblages of men ever to step onto any field of play.


From 1963-1975, the Bruins captured an unthinkable 10 out of 12 championships, including their ridiculous run of seven in a row from '66-'73. The height of their dominance was in the midst of this particular run.

What began innocently enough, with a win over in-state foe UCSB in January of 1971, would soon blossom into a three-year stretch where UCLA could not lose.

Encompassing back-to-back-to-back National Championships and the only consecutive undefeated seasons ever recorded, their 88-game winning streak would become the high watermark in major sports history.

UCLA would eventually be famously upset by the Fighting Irish almost exactly three years after the winning streak began in the game that put college basketball on the map of the sports world.

Still, their total dominance for those three years is unmatched in sports history.

No. 3: Joe DiMaggio hits in 56 straight games in 1941

Known simply as "The Streak," Joltin' Joe's mark of 56 consecutive games with a hit is still regarded as one of the records that will never fall.

Though the streak itself is extremely impressive (only three other players have ever had a 40-game hit streak since 1900), DiMaggio's performance over that span is what makes "The Streak" the stuff of legends.

Joe didn't simply go 1-for-4 for 56 games.  Nearly half of these games (21) were of the multi-hit variety, he had three or more hits nine times, and recorded four hits four times.

His 91 hits over this span gave him an astronomical .408 average.  Pete Rose's 44-game hit streak was the only such streak to come within shouting distance of 56. Rose hit .361 during his stretch, with no homers, as opposed to Joe's 15.

DiMaggio and the Yankees faced quality pitching during the span, taking their cuts against the likes of future Hall-of-Famers Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, and Ted Lyons.  Joe didn't falter against these aces, going 10-for24, a .417 clip.

Most importantly, DiMaggio helped the Yankees win. The Bombers were 40-14-2 during Joe's superhuman stretch, including a 14-game win streak at one point.

DiMaggio demonstrated why he was the MVP that year; the Yanks surely couldn't have done without his 55 RBI and 56 runs during "The Streak."  At that pace, DiMaggio would finish a 162-game season with 162 runs and 160 RBI.

His record has been approached in recent years, but never really threatened.  Joltin' Joe's three-month stretch from May 15 to July 16 was perhaps the greatest such stretch of anyone to every play the game.  

Players have been getting bigger, stronger, and faster, but still, "The Streak" might just be that one record that will never be touched.

No. 2: Tiger Woods wins 2008 U.S. Open on one leg

Two surgeries, a double stress fracture, and a torn ACL.

That was the state of Tiger Woods' left knee heading into the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, though it sounds more like the horrific football injuries, the likes of those inflicted on Joe Theisman, Willis McGahee, and, more recently, Tom Brady.

Tiger not only played on his destroyed left knee, he did so for 91 holes.  This marathon went through more than the regulation 72 holes...more, even, than the standard 18-hole playoff but further, into the 19th playoff hole and sudden death.

It's difficult to overstate this injury or how much pain Tiger Woods had to have been in for five days.  But what's even more impressive how he made it through the week with the strain of his particular golf swing, because Tiger's left knee is vital to generating his vaunted power.

Tiger loads up tremendously on his backswing in order to obtain the massive amount of torque needed to hit the ball as hard and far as he does.  To accomplish all this, he must lock his left knee, which then absorbs all the force Tiger has generated.

Despite all this adversity, Tiger managed to ward off the best competition in the world and outduel Rocco Mediate in that epic 19-hole playoff.

He played through more physical pain than many of us will ever even feel and was able to put it out of his mind to make some of the most clutch putts of his career.

To this point there have been lots of numbers, lots of statistics in this article, but how do you quantify will? How do you put a number on the sheer determination exhibited by Tiger that weekend in Southern California?  

This is the stuff of legends, this is Michael Jordan with the flu willing the Bulls to another championship, Kirk Gibson's walk-off in game 1 of the 1988 Series with both legs devastated, and Lou Gehrig winning World Championships with his ALS-ridden body failing him.

This is all, that rolled into one tremendous exhibition of desire and heart.

So listing total putts, greens in regulations, or fairways hit just doesn't seem to cut it here.  This was a gritty, tough, heartfelt performance showing us the true depths of an athlete's will and desire; it will surely echo through the ages.

No. 1: Babe Ruth hits 54 Home Runs in 1920

When Ruth hit 60 home runs to set a record that would stand for 34 years, that total was higher than the team totals for all but three franchises in the majors and led all other players by an amazing margin of 13. 

That year, the New York Giants went deep 109 times, St. Louis hit 84, and the Cubs had 74 long balls. That was it. Ruth out homered every other team in baseball.

And that wasn't his even his most dominant year.

In 1920, when Ruth was famously traded to the Yankees for $100,000, he was to effect the single most dramatic change on any sport.  His 1920 season was much like his much ballyhooed 1927 season in that he also out homered most teams in the league.

Only this time, it was all but one.

Ruth's incredible 54 dingers were only ten less than Philly's team total of 64.  But comparing the Babe to entire teams yields on a cursory understanding of his dominance. What really reveals him as a giant among men is the performance of his peers.

That year, George Sisler was Ruth's closest competitor with 19 home runs.


That means Ruth out slugged the Hit King himself (apologies to Ichiro) by a ridiculous 35. Ruth was so far ahead of the pack that he swatted more homeruns than his closest three competitors combined.

The simple act of his stepping to the plate engendered a pure terror a pitcher that no modern player can replicated. So in comparison with today's slugger, the Babe looms even larger.

Ruth's 54 long balls were an absurd 14.6 percent of all homers hit in 1920.  Barry Bonds' record-breaking 73 round-trippers in 2001 were 293 short of equaling that percent.

That's right.

In order for Bonds to have hit 14.6 percent of all home runs in 2001, he would've needed to go deep 366 times.  That is the scope of the Babe's dominance projected onto today's game.

The most important part of his incredible season, however, was how it changed the game almost overnight.  In the 10 seasons previous to 1920, American League homerun champions hit 10, 11, 10, 12, 9, 7, 12, 9, 11, and 29 home runs.

After Ruth's demolition of the league, the next 10 champions checked in at 59, 39, 41, 46, 33, 57, 60, 54, 46, and 49.

The average homerun king went from hitting 12 homers before Ruth's 54, to hitting balls out of the yard at a clip of 48 per year.

Ruth indelibly left his mark on the game.  Dominant, permanent, and untouchable.

Honorable Mention: Cal Ripken becomes the Iron Man, Sir Edmund Hilary climbs Mt. Everest, Michael Phelps wins a record eight Olympic Gold Medals in Beijing, Lance Armstrong wins seventh straight Tour de France, Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier.

I'm 100 percent open for ideas, I don't mean to diminish any other accomplishments, I just think these four are the most awe inspiring.

The reason a lot of things (e.g. The Shot Heard Round The World, The Immaculate Reception, etc.) didn't make it is because they were single moments, not large scale accomplishments like these. As I said, comments are more than welcome.