The 50 Biggest What Ifs in Sports History
The ref blew the call! We traded him?! But, what if those things didn't happen? What if we could turn back the clock and change the outcome like Doc Brown and Marty McFly?
What if the New York Yankees sucked for decades? What if we drafted the right guy? Let's dive into a countdown of alternate reality.
These are the 50 biggest what-ifs in sports history!
50. What If Dusty Baker Had Left Russ Ortiz in the Game in the '02 Series?
If the Boston Red Sox had kept Babe Ruth, baseball’s best slugger, we might talk about their history with the reverence that goes along with Yankees baseball. As it turned out, the Sox were cursed until 2004, while the Yanks piled up 27 titles from 1923-2009.
Led by Barry Bonds, a formidable lineup and a reliable pitching staff, the San Francisco Giants seemed like they were destined to be world champs in 2002. They were in position to do so, too. Eight outs away from champagne and rings, the Giants were up 5-0, but Dusty Baker freaked out when San Francisco starter Russ Ortiz gave up back-to-back singles in the seventh.
Baker summoned Felix Rodriguez and the Angels put three runs up in the seventh and three in the eighth, propelling them to a Game 6 win, and eventually winning Game 7. Had Baker left Ortiz in the game with his shutout intact, the Halos and that damn rally monkey might be title-less.
49. What If Maradona Hadn't Gotten Away with His “Hand of God?”
Diego Maradona’s fabled goal in the 1986 World Cup qualifier against England is a trip to watch. But, his ballsy finish makes it legendary.
What happens if a referee spots the handball? Does Argentina advance or do the Englanders make a run to the finals? Argentina might have been the only team in the tournament good enough to beat West Germany and Maradona found a way to get them there.
48. What If Tim Duncan Had Pursued His Passion as a Swimmer?
We might have been stripped of perhaps the most effective power forward in NBA history, but we might have gained an Olympic gold medalist swimmer.
In high school, Duncan thrived at the 50-, 100- and 400-meter freestyle and was making a serious bid at the 1992 Olympics. However, Hurricane Hugo destroyed the only Olympic-sized swimming pool in the Virgin Islands and Duncan decided to focus on the hardwood.
47. What If Eddie Guerrero’s Heart Hadn't Given Out on Him?
The former WWE champion was highly regarded inside and outside of the ring. “Latino Heat” brought the cruiserweight to the forefront and electrified wrestling enthusiasts all over the world. But at the age of 38, Guerrero passed away of heart failure in a hotel room in Minneapolis.
His signature finishing move—the “Frog Splash”—was used to commemorate the fallen idol by his friends, including his nephew, Chavo Guerrero. Many consider Eddie Guerrero to be one of the most technical wrestlers to ever lace up the boots, but most remember him as a world-class human being.
46. What If Babe Ruth Had Continued To Pitch?
Before the Babe was the "Sultan of Swat," he was dominating on the bump. As a pitcher, Ruth was devastating, posting a career 2.28 ERA and a 94-46 record. Many sportswriters of his time considered him to be the finest pitcher the big leagues had to offer.
45. What If the Reds Had Kept Frank Robinson?
Trading an MVP at 29 usually isn’t a great idea, but the Reds pulled the trigger in 1965. The would-be Hall of Famer was sent to Baltimore for Jack Baldschun, Dick Simpson and Milt Pappas (who?).
"The Judge’s" numbers continued to soar, as Robinson played 21 seasons in the bigs and smashed 586 homers. He also led the O’s to the World Series in ’66 and ’70. Cincy wasn’t forever cursed, but it didn’t win a flag for five years after it made the deal, and didn’t win a World Series for 10 years.
44. What If the 49ers Had Taken Aaron Rodgers Instead of Alex Smith?
San Fran could have taken anyone in the ’05 draft, but with its first selection, it took Alex Smith from Utah. Then a slew of running backs, wide receivers and defensive ends were taken before the Packers took a chance on Berkeley quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
For the past six seasons, the Niners have struggled and Green Bay has prospered. Once the Pack parted ways with Brett Favre, Rodgers took over and has become a top-five quarterback. Meanwhile, San Francisco hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2002.
43. What If Bo Jackson’s Hip Had Held Up?
When healthy, Bo Jackson was incomparable. He was big, fast and athletically daunting. Unfortunately for everyone who watched him play both football and baseball, he was completely hampered with injury.
His baseball skills were on full display when he was selected to the All-Star Game in 1989. There, he hit a towering 450-foot homer, stole a bag and drove in two. On the football field, Jackson was a menace. Though he only scored 16 TDs in four years and rushed for about 2,800 yards, Jackson sure was a memorable back.
(Also he was un-tackle-able in Tecmo Bowl).
42. What If Alex Ferguson Had Retired in 2002?
Sir Alex has been managing Manchester United since 1986 and is a huge reason behind their immense success. But in 2002, Ferguson was on his way out. Luckily for United fans, Ferguson decided to stay on, and his team has prospered under his tutelage.
Since 2002, the Red Devils have piled up three League Cups, an FA Cup and five First Division championships.
41. What If Marty McSorley Hadn't Been Caught with an Illegal Stick in '93?
Wayne Gretzky had finally gotten his new team to the Stanley Cup Finals against the hated Canadiens, and better yet, take the first game in a lopsided 4-1 win. But Game 2 proved to be the most memorable.
With the Kings up 2-1 late in the third period, Montreal coach Jacques Demers called for Marty McSorley’s stick to be measured. The stick was considered illegal and McSorley was given a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Demers then pulled Patrick Roy from the net to force a 6-on-4 advantage. The Canadiens scored and later won it in overtime, evening the series and taking all the momentum away from L.A.
40. What If Earl Manigault Had Played in the NBA?
Earl was said to be able to take a dollar bill off the top of the backboard and leave change. He probably couldn’t stack up to his tall-tale status, but one has to wonder what if he had the opportunity?
Even though there isn’t a lot of evidence suggesting “The Goat” was good enough for the NBA, his name piques the interests of basketball enthusiasts. Manigualt set a NYC junior high school record when he scored 57 points in a game.
He continued to thrive throughout high school until he started using drugs and running with gangs. A streetball legend in New York, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar named Manigualt the greatest player he had ever played with or against—high praise from the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
39. What If Joe Montana Had Come Up Short in '81?
This scenario may change the outcome of five Super Bowls. Joe Montana moved the chains 89 yards en route to Dwight Clark’s brilliant catch, but, if the Cowboys had stopped Montana and company, maybe the ‘Boys would have been the team of the decade.
A failed drive might have turned Montana into a different kind of quarterback. Maybe the Niners wouldn't have felt the need to take a kid named Jerry Rice out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985, as they had spent the last four seasons drafting receivers capable of making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
38. What If Steve Bartman Had Left the Fly Ball Alone?
The "Curse of the Billy Goat" couldn’t have been more prevalent than during the 2003 NLCS. With the Cubs ahead in the series 3-2, Chicago was enjoying a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning.
Luis Castillo came to the plate and fouled off a pitch down the left field line. As the ball began traveling back toward the earth, Steve Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, reached up and deflected the ball out of Moises Alou’s reach. The Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning and defeated the Cubs in the seventh and final game.
The Marlins continued their quest and won the 2003 World Series in six games, but what if Alou had made the putout? Would the Cubs have broken the curse and won their first flag since 1945 and first World Series since 1908?
37. What If Allen Iverson Had Chosen Football over Basketball?
A lot of athletes excel at other sports in high school, but few dominate the way Allen Iverson did on the football field. As the starting quarterback at Bethel High School, Iverson led his team to the Virginia State championship.
Iverson was flooded with both basketball and football scholarships, but he opted to play hoops at Georgetown and we know the rest. His quickness could have been a Michael Vick-like asset under center, but we’ll never know if Iverson had the chops to juke the NFL.
36. What If Miklos Feher Hadn't Died at 24?
Miklos Feher was a prolific goal scorer in Hungary before he died of cardiac arrest on the pitch in Portugal. His skills were on full display in 2000 during a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, where Feher netted a hat trick.
In 2004 Feher’s career was cut short and we will never know what could have become of the Hungarian’s promising start.
35. What If Kirby Puckett Hadn’t Lost Vision in One of His Eyes?
Twelve years into his major league career, Puckett lost vision in his right eye. At just 36, Kirby was forced to retire from the game that brought him so much joy.
A career .318 hitter, the 5’8” sparkplug was a 10-time All-Star, two-time world champ and six-time Gold Glover. Just 696 hits away from 3,000, Puckett seemed to have the longevity most only dream of.
34. What If Hank Gathers Had Played in the NBA?
Hank Gathers is another one of those what-if guys. After leading Loyola Marymount to a 28-4 record in 1987-88, Gathers led the nation in both scoring (32.7 PPG) and rebounding (13.7 RPG) in 1988-89.
His senior season was off to a stellar start until he collapsed at the free-throw line in December against UCSB. The doctors said he had an abnormal heartbeat and prescribed Inderal.
Gathers cut his dosage because he thought it was affecting his game, and in March at the WCC tourney, Gathers collapsed again, but this time it was fatal. Gathers was declared dead on arrival. He was 23.
33. What If Dale Earnhardt Hadn't Crashed at Daytona?
Even though Earnhardt had a long career in NASCAR, it was certainly cut short while he was still extremely effective. With 76 wins and 428 top-10 finishes over 27 years, “The Intimidator” was at the apex of his profession.
Earnhardt entered the 2001 Daytona 500 with confidence and raced well. Sitting in third place with only a lap to go, Earnhardt veered into the apron and then into the wall at 160 mph. Dale died at the age of 49, and NASCAR lost a legend.
32. What If Tyson Hadn't Lost to Douglas?
It seems like Tyson’s career is hampered with what-if moments, but his defeat at the hands of 37:1 underdog Buster Douglas might top the list. You see, Tyson was 37-0 and seemingly knocked every opponent out in the first round.
He appeared invincible, and shortly after his loss to Douglas, Tyson’s life fell apart.
He was convicted of rape, spent three years in prison, converted to Islam, recaptured his title and then bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Had he not lost his title in Tokyo in 1990, Tyson might have fought a few more times, retired undefeated and gone down as the greatest heavyweight of all time.
31. What If Kurt Warner Had Been Content Stocking Shelves at a Supermarket?
From supermarket to Super Bowl, Kurt Warner’s story is an interesting one. A force to be reckoned with in the Arena League, Warner had to take a second job working overnight at a market.
Eventually, the Rams gave him a chance, and after a season as the third-stringer, Warner was promoted to the second-string QB behind Trent Green. When Green tore his ACL during a preseason game, it was Warner’s time to shine.
Warner led the Rams to a 13-3 regular-season record and a Super Bowl title. Warner also collected an MVP in 1999 as the "Greatest Show on Turf” was born.
30. What If M.J. Hadn’t Retired the First Time?
After dominating the NBA for a decade and collecting three championships, Jordan decided to hang it up. He cited a lack of passion, but many speculated the murder of his father as the real cause of it all. Jordan decided to play baseball and spent a season with the White Sox' Double-A affiliate in Birmingham.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets were building a dynasty of their own, built on the slick game of Hakeem Olajuwon. But, what if Jordan hadn’t retired?
Once Mike was back for good, his Bulls three-peated again. Could Chicago have collected a very Celtic-like eight, nine or 10 consecutive championships? Don’t bet against Jordan.
29. What If Zinedine Zidane Hadn’t Head-Butted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup?
Zidane should have known better in 2006, but for some reason, he planted his bald head in the solar plexus of his Italian counterpart, Marco Materazzi. The ridiculous foul occurred in the 110th minute of the World Cup final and resulted in a Zidane send-off.
The French lost to Italy in a shootout, but had Zidane participated, France might have captured its second World Cup in three tournaments.
28. What If Carl Lewis Had Been Banned from the '88 Summer Games?
Carl Lewis was already an American icon by the time the 1988 summer games rolled around. In ’84, Lewis won four gold medals and was poised to repeat his feat four years later. But, just before the games, Lewis received a letter informing him that he had tested positive for a banned substance and would not be allowed to compete.
The U.S. eventually flipped its position and Lewis was allowed to go based on the fact that he had “accidentally used” a list of drugs. Ironically, the ’88 games were the same Olympiad that Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal for drug use. The then-silver medalist? Carl Lewis.
27. What If the Yankees Had Staved Off the Red Sox in '04?
It seemed like an easy enough task: win one time in four chances against a team you have completely dominated for the past eight years. The Yanks couldn’t close it out, though, and the Sox became the only team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
Had the Yankees taken out Boston in 2004, I have little doubt that the 2007 Red Sox wouldn’t have won it all, either. They probably would have continued to struggle with their very Cubs-like postseason tendencies.
26. What If LeBron Had Gone to College?
Let’s say the NBA had instituted its rule against allowing players to be drafted after high school in 2003 instead of 2006. LeBron would have gone to college (University of Akron?) and probably would have won a national title, à la Carmelo Anthony in '03.
But what happens next?
We know the ’03 draft would have drastically changed, but if James had gone the one-and-done route, he would have almost certainly been taken first overall in ’04. Maybe he would have ended up on a contender after a few years, won a couple of NBA championships and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have turned into the colossal prick that he has become over the last season.
25. What If Lance Armstrong Had Been Busted Earlier?
Lance Armstrong is a machine and his reputation was impeccable for years. He was the feel-good story nobody could possibly believe, and then came the allegations of performance-enhancing drug use.
However, what if Armstrong had been accused and then proven guilty of drug use after his first win? He wouldn’t have become the icon he is today. Instead, he would have been like Floyd Landis—a man ostracized from the sport.
I doubt that Sheryl Crowe would have dated him, and the American Cancer Society would have lost boatloads of donations. Most importantly, he would have been there to encourage Peter La Fleur to beat Globo Gym in the finals of the dodgeball championships.
24. What If Chris Webber Hadn’t Called the Non-Existent Timeout?
Michigan Wolverines, avert your eyes! The Fab Five are making their second run in the NCAA tourney and are back at the national championship game. There are 11 seconds left on the clock and Michigan is down by two to North Carolina.
After a missed free throw, Webber travels, dribbles the length of the court and calls timeout. Here’s the problem: Michigan is out of timeouts. The result: a technical foul. Game over.
If Webber makes a play and scores a game-tying basket or hits Jimmy King on the wing for a game-winning three, maybe he becomes a clutch NBA star. Don’t get me wrong, C-Webb’s career in the league is nothing to scoff at, but he never won anything.
23. What If the “Tuck Rule” Call Had Gone the Other Way?
Raiders fans will talk your ear off about the “tuck rule.” On a cold and wintry evening in New England, the Raiders were robbed of a chance to advance past the divisional round of the 2002 NFL playoffs.
With time winding down, Brady backed up in the pocket ready to pass but was bombarded by Charles Woodson, who dislodged the ball. Greg Biekert promptly fell on the loose ball, and the Raiders (up by three) looked as if they had it clinched.
After a review, the call was reversed, Vinatieri nailed a game-tying field goal and the Pats won it in overtime.
Had the call been made correctly, the Patriots might not be who they are today. It was their unlikely success in the “tuck rule” game that propelled them to their first Super Bowl in franchise history, and arguably, the next two titles in the following three seasons.
22. What If the U.S. Had Lost to the USSR in the Miracle on Ice?
Would we all be Communists? Probably not, but the win over the Russians was the biggest upset on frozen water. Remarkably, the game was only a semifinal match, as the Americans went on to beat Finland, 4-2, in the gold-medal game.
21. What If Ty Cobb Hadn't Been Such a Jerk?
Before the Red Sox and Yankees were bitter rivals, the Tigers and Yankees hated each other fervently. On one side, you had the brash, pudgy Ruth, and on the other, you had the surly, overtly aggressive Ty Cobb.
The two were rivals unlike any other, both with deep disdain for one another. Cobb came from money; his father was a statesman from Georgia and was very wealthy. Ruth was a kid from the tough streets of Baltimore, and for this, Cobb looked down on Ruth, never seeing him as an equal.
Still, it wasn’t just Ruth that Cobb disliked; Cobb disliked seemingly everyone and everything. Most baseball fans forget about his career .367 average (highest ever) or his 54 swipes of home plate (will never be touched) because he was such a racist jerk. It’s a credit to our society that perhaps baseball’s best player on the field is forgotten because of his exploits off of it.
20. What If Roy Campanella Hadn't Gotten into That Car?
Roy Campanella was undoubtedly the best catcher in the National League from 1948 to 1957, when his career was cut short by a near-fatal car accident.
The three-time MVP was driving home from the liquor store he owned and operated during the offseason (not something you’d see any MLBers do today) when he hit a patch of ice and struck a telephone pole.
The crash broke Campanella’s neck and compressed his spinal cord, which forced the great backstopper into a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
19. What If Len Bias Didn’t Overdose on Cocaine?
Len Bias improved every year he played at the University of Maryland, and by the time he was a senior, he posted 23 points a game and seven rebounds. He was a first-team All-American and a star on the rise.
But, 1986 turned to out to be tragic instead of celebratory. The Celtics selected Bias with the second overall pick of the draft, but two days later, Bias overdosed on cocaine.
A high percentage of lottery picks have illustrious careers in the NBA and Bias would have been no different. It’s sad he never got a chance to lace ‘em up and contribute to Boston’s frontcourt.
18. What If the Cubs Had Held On to Lou Brock?
To be fair to the Cubbies, Brock wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in Chicago. He did, however, start that fire the moment he put on the rival Cardinals uniform.
Brock would go on to become the all-time steals leader and win two world championships with the Redbirds, as the Cubs sat at home every October. Had they kept Brock, they might have made a run. Without him, they did nothing. Sorry Chi-Town.
17. What If Barry Bonds Had Never (Allegedly) Juiced?
Bonds was probably the best overall player in the majors. Bonds had all five tools and was well on his way to becoming the only player with 500 homers and 500 stolen bags. Still, something about the home run chase in 1998 between McGwire and Sosa really ticked off the slugger.
Over the next few years, Bonds’ head began to grow exponentially. His power increased along with his age, and he claimed every home run record imaginable.
If Bonds had left the HGH alone, he might have been as highly regarded as his godfather, Willie Mays. Instead, he’s remembered for cheating, lying about it and being a jerk when interviewed.
16. What If Brett Hull’s Goal Hadn't Counted in the '99 Cup Finals?
Divert your eyes, Sabres fans. Brett Hull’s goal in the crease might be the most painful thing to happen to Buffalo sports fans since losing four consecutive Super Bowls.
The Sabres haven’t been back to the Finals since the botched call of ’99, and the franchise is yet to etch its name in Lord Stanley’s Cup.
15. What If Pete Rose Had Never Been Caught Betting on Baseball?
One thing’s for sure: Rose should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His 4,256 hits are No. 1 all time, and nobody played with the same passion as “Charlie Hustle.” Rose was the epitome of hard work and endurance, as he lasted 24 unforgettable seasons.
He also loved to gamble, and he wasn’t very good about keeping his vice hush-hush. When Bart Giamatti (Paul’s dad) permanently banned Rose from baseball, the career .303 hitter must have been crushed. He went on every television, newspaper and radio outlet in America to proclaim his innocence, but nobody believed ol’ Petey.
Eventually, he admitted his faults and still sits on the outside of Cooperstown.
14. What If Barry Sanders Had Played Longer?
Barry Sanders is easily the most exciting back in NFL history. His north-to-south approach made every carry electrifying, but Barry only lasted 10 seasons in the NFL.
In that decade of service, Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 rushing touchdowns at an average of five yards per carry.
Sanders obviously didn’t care about his numbers, though. He could have caught Walter “Sweetness” Payton had he played one more season but opted to retire early instead.
13. What If Lou Gehrig Hadn't Contracted ALS?
“The Iron Horse” was an icon in New York City. He was a local kid who made good and ended up playing for his hometown Yankees. His career was a storied one: a .340 career average, 493 jacks and 1,995 RBI.
He won six World Series, two MVPs, a Triple Crown and was the Yankees team captain for the final five years of his career. As if that wasn't enough, Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games.
The disease bearing his name started to take effect during the 1938 season, as the star complained of fatigue. By the time the spring rolled around in 1939, Gehrig looked physically tired. By the end of April, Gehrig was hitting .143 with one RBI.
Something was wrong.
A few days later, Lou benched himself and ended his streak.
In July of 1939, Gehrig gave his “Luckiest Man on Earth” speech and two years later, the legend passed away. Gehrig’s name meant a lot during his inspiring life, but he might mean more to the thousands who struggle with ALS every day.
12. What If Mario Lemieux Hadn’t Been Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s?
This is probably the only other guy (other than Gretzky) to flat-out dismember defenses. Aside from two injury-plagued seasons in ‘90-‘91 and ‘93-‘94, "Super Mario" finished the year with 100 points or more. During his ‘88-‘89 campaign, Lemieux nearly scored 200 points en route to one of his three Hart Trophies.
In 1993, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and missed two months of the season. Like a freight train, Mario returned and led the Pens to an NHL-record 17 consecutive wins.
But Lemieux was never the same. His cancer treatments drained his energy, and even though his continued play was inspiring, his career numbers aren’t what they could have been.
11. What If There Hadn't Been a Home Run Race in '98?
After the strike ended the 1994 season, baseball was in serious trouble. After a few years, attendance didn’t show much improvement and baseball was desperate for something spectacular. How about the single-season home run record falling twice in one year? Will that bring the fans back?
Apparently, the answer was yes. As Sosa and McGwire started pounding long balls at a dizzying pace, America’s pastime was front and center. Without the historical (but tainted) race, MLB may have contracted or possibly folded altogether.
10. What If the ’72 Dolphins Had Lost?
We certainly wouldn’t have to listen to the ridiculous ramblings of Mercury Morris every time a team starts out 7-0. The Dolphins of ’72 only needed to win 14 games in the regular season and three playoff games to accomplish what has never been done before or since.
Today, it takes 19 games to finish undefeated, and besides the Patriots of 2007, no other team has come all that close.
The ’72 Dolphins were anything but dominant. Most of their games were played tight (with the exception of the 52-0 drubbing against the Pats), slipping past the Browns, Steelers and Redskins by no more than a touchdown in the playoffs.
Simply put, without the gaudy regular-season record, the Dolphins of ’72 aren’t even the best team of the ‘70s, let alone all time.
9. What If the '07 Patriots Had Beaten the Giants in the Super Bowl?
Now this was a team that beat down its opponents. It seemed like every week the Pats took the field, their counterparts had no chance. Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Matt Light, Asante Samuel, Mike Vrabel, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker and Logan Mankins were all named AP All-Pros, and Bill Belichick seemed like he had everyone figured out.
That is, until they faced the G-Men in the Super Bowl.
A frantic scramble and a miracle catch later, and the Giants had edged out New England 17-14 to make their record a not-so-perfect 18-1.
A Super Bowl win would have solidified the ’07 Patriots as the greatest team of all time. As it stands, they are the only 18-1 team (’84 Niners, ’85 Bears) to lose in the Super Bowl.
8. What If Curt Flood Hadn't Been Curt Flood?
The entire sports landscape can be credited to one man: Curt Flood. Flood was a perennial outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals in the '50s and '60s, as he piled up Gold Gloves (seven) and led off for one of baseball’s most feared lineups. But, Flood’s work off the field made him a man to speak about with reverence.
After refusing a trade after the 1969 season, Flood took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. His work paved the way against baseball’s reserve clause and opened up the door to free agency.
7. What If Jim Brown Had Played Longer?
Jim Brown isn’t only the best running back of all time—he’s the best football player of all time. Over nine seasons, Brown scored 126 TDs and rushed for 12,312 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
If he had played a few more seasons, he would have every rushing record, and we might be cross-sport comparing him to the likes of Wayne Gretzky. Instead, the general consensus is that he left the game too soon.
6. What If Joe Namath Hadn't Backed Up His Guarantee in Super Bowl III?
"Joe Willie" Namath might be one of the most overrated players in any sport. His predictive guarantee in Super Bowl III led to worldwide fame and an appearance on The Brady Bunch. The rest of his career was lackluster.
As a starter, Namath posted a sub-.500 record, threw 47 more picks than touchdowns and had a career completion percentage barely above 50.
"Broadway Joe" is in the Hall of Fame for one reason: his win against Johnny Unitas’ Colts solidified the AFL as a comparable league.
Without the win, the NFL may look completely different, but at least we wouldn’t have to look at that horse-like grin and shaggy hairdo every time an underdog made a run.
5. What If Bill Buckner Had Stopped That Ball in the '86 World Series?
A lot has become of maybe the most infamous ground ball ever struck, but I have a different theory. Let’s set the stage:
It’s Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and the Boston Red Sox are one out away from their first world championship in 68 years. Instead, Mookie Wilson’s ground ball down the first-base line went directly between Bill Buckner’s legs and the Mets won the series in seven games.
So, what if Buckner had come up with the ground ball cleanly? Mookie would still have been safe. Wilson was a fleet-footed left fielder and Buckner was playing too deep. In addition, Bob Stanley (Boston’s reliever) was tardy in covering the first-base bag.
In my opinion, the Mets still would have won the series, but Buckner’s life after baseball would have been a lot more pleasant.
4. What If the Blazers Had Taken M.J. Instead of Sam Bowie
Perhaps the most storied draft in NBA history occurred back in 1984. Houston won the lottery and promptly selected Hakeem Olajuwon to form one of the most formidable frontcourts in recent history. But, with the Blazers on the clock, most experts had Portland’s choice narrowed down to two All-Americans.
Sam Bowie was a senior from Kentucky with a seemingly tremendous upside but suffered injuries throughout his college career. The other guy was some 6’6” guard from North Carolina. In need of some size in the middle, the Blazers opted for the 7’1” Bowie.
Bowie averaged about 11 points a game and 7.5 rebounds; the other guy went on to be a six-time NBA champ, five-time MVP, 14-time All-Star and maybe the best player of all time. Oops.
3. What If Wayne Gretzky Hadn’t Gone to the L.A. Kings?
Alongside Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffee and Jari Kurri, the Oilers had built themselves quite the little dynasty. Edmonton had won three Stanley Cups in four years, and Canada considered Gretzky to be a national treasure. In fact, according to the Toronto Sun, "NDP house leader Nelson Riis asked the government to block the trade."
If the blockbuster deal hadn't gone down, the NHL could have gone under. The league had been struggling to make a profit, but with its biggest star playing in one of its biggest markets, the NHL was safe.
Gretzky would lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993 and Edmonton continued winning. Had Gretzky stayed in Edmonton, the Oilers may have enjoyed the same success that the Canadiens did in the '50s, '60s and '70s.
2. What If the Red Sox Hadn’t Sold Babe Ruth for $125,000?
This is what we call a “game-changer.” In 1919, Ruth was coming off a record year, as he struck 29 homers while batting .324 with 119 RBI. Did I mention that he went 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA during the same campaign?
But, hey, the Sox needed money and Ruth was popular enough to be elected mayor of Boston, so they decided to sell high (oops). The money was used to finance a Broadway play, and the rest is history.
1. What If There Had Been No Color Barrier in Sports?
This would have changed everything. The Negro Leagues would have never existed in baseball and James “Cool Papa” Bell, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe and Leroy “Satchel” Paige would be as well known as “The Iron Horse,” “The Georgia Peach“ and “The Babe.”
The Harlem Globetrotters wouldn’t have had us whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown” every time a behind-the-back pass or two-handed tomahawk dunk was executed.
Jackie Robinson wouldn’t have been a pioneer for civil rights. He would have just been another talented, young player trying to make his mark on the game; others would have blazed that trail decades before him.
The color barrier in sports only robbed athletics from the best possible competition. There’s no doubt in my mind that Josh Gibson was as good as his contemporaries, if not better. Too bad society was too scared and too bigoted to find out.