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2011 in Sports: Bud Shaw's Weird Year in Review

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Denver quarterback Tim Tebow's pastor reportedly said the reason for the Broncos' success in 2011 wasn't luck or teamwork. "It's favor," Wayne Hanson said. "God's favor."

In college basketball, the St. John's Red Storm recruited the son of a Nigerian minister. The player's name? God's Gift Achiuwa.

Texas Rangers' star outfielder Josh Hamilton said God told him he'd hit a home run in Game 6 of the World Series. Despite Hamilton's two-run homer, the Rangers lost in extra innings.

"There was a period at the end (of the sentence)," Hamilton clarified. "(God) didn't say you're going to hit it and you're going to win."

The wife of baseball slugger Albert Pujols said she initially blamed God for an unsatisfactory offer from the St. Louis Cardinals but she forgave Him. After all, Deidre Pujols said, the story ended happily with her husband signing a $254 million deal to play in sunny California.

"It's just like God to put us on a team called the Angels," she said of the Pujols' new team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest hitters and biggest flakes in baseball history, retired in 2011 after another positive steroid test meant he'd face a 100-game suspension. Said Ramirez, "God knows what's best (for me)."

Despite so much divine intervention, the sports world in 2011 was filled with the usual bad behavior, head-scratchers, chaos, hypocrisy and grand overstatement:

• Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donated a kidney to a freshman player but only after Todd Hairston, the school's associate athletic director for compliance, made sure with the NCAA that a donated kidney didn't qualify as an "extra benefit."

• Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan accused of poisoning Auburn's century-old oak trees at Toomer's Corner, called a radio station and owned up to his crime. Sort of. "I'm extremely sorry for what I've been accused of doing," said Updyke, who named his children Bear Bryant and Crimson Tyde.

• Baseball announcer Tim McCarver said during a broadcast, "It's a five-letter word. S-T-R-I-K-E." When the mistake was called to his attention by radio host Dan Patrick, McCarver said, "That's why I'm bad at Scrabble."


• A man who threw a hot dog at Tiger Woods during the Frys.com Open claimed the movie Drive inspired him to do something "courageous."


• The 1-4 Philadelphia Eagles locked the doors on the media one day after practice. The show of unity by the struggling 1-4 team left something to be desired when they discovered they'd not only locked out the media but also starting quarterback Michael Vick.

• The Lingerie Basketball League announced it would launch an inaugural season with teams named the Beauties, Glam, Starlets and Divas. League rules include a 60-second opportunity to score a bonus point called -- you might have guessed -- the "Red Light Special."

• "We're bringing 53 men to the Apocalypse and we ain't bringing flowers." -- Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs prior to a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. Suggs' statement raised a burning question for Miss Manners: "What exactly is the appropriate host gift for an Apocalypse?"

• Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush (D) said the NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, was like the Mafia. He called the organization "one of the most vicious, most ruthless ever created by mankind."

• Reporter Guan Weijia of China's Titan Sports, called NBA commissioner David Stern "the demon of all demons and he is Satan who is the king of demons in this labor dispute."

Note: Probably not a good idea to ask Bobby Rush or Guan Weijia to deliver your eulogy.

• A sign that the Apocalypse is coming -- with or without flowers: promoters matched disgraced former baseball players Jose Canseco and Len Dykstra in a celebrity boxing match, but only because Dykstra was a late-minute replacement for White House dinner crasher Tareq Salahi.

In a women's bout, Nadya "the Octomom" Suleman was scheduled to fight Amy Fisher.

Other losers: anyone who paid $19.95 to watch.

• A Wyoming high school football coach gave his players a sarcastic questionnaire in an attempt to make the point that there are no excuses for not showing toughness at all times. The questionnaire topic: possible reasons for getting their feelings hurt. One choice: "I have woman-like hormones." Others choices included homophobic and more sexist language.

Coach Pat Lynch's survey also asked for the name of the "little sissy filing (the "hurt feelings") report. There was a place for a "girly-man signature."

Lynch resigned as coach but kept his teaching position.

He's a guidance counselor.

• "I hate (ESPN's) Skip Bayless more than any person in the world." -- Charles Barkley, interviewed on The Dan Patrick Show...at a time when Kim Jong Il was still alive.

• The Irony Award: a Canadian beauty queen faced criminal charges for her part in the Stanley Cup street riots in Vancouver last summer. Sophie LaBoissonniere, charged as a part of a group that broke into a drug store, earned a title at the Miss Coastal Vancouver pageant.

Miss Congeniality.

• Overreaction of the Year (to an event that offended one person and one person only: Jets' defensive tackle Sione Pouha objected to a TD celebration in which a Buffalo receiver mimicked an airplane crashing to make fun of Jets' receiver Santonio Holmes' own "airplane" touchdown celebration:

"...That airplane thing, in my opinion, was kind of a dagger considering the circumstances of remembrance of what we just had on Sept. 11. That’s a sacred moment for a lot of people and it’s a very sobering moment.”

• The NFL fined Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu $10,000 for using a cell phone on the Steelers' sidelines during a game against Jacksonville. His crime? After suffering a concussion, he called his wife to let her know he was OK.

• Former Mets' pitcher Doc Gooden admitted in an interview with ESPN's E:60 he missed the Mets' World Series parade in 1986 and instead watched it on TV. Not with a friend. With a drug dealer he barely knew.

• "Tweet is for losers. And what I mean by that, if you wake up in the morning and you're worried about what I'm doing, you a damn idiot." -- Charles Barkley.

• Hank Williams Jr. likened President Obama and John Boehner playing golf to "Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu." Williams lost his affiliation with Monday Night Football because of the controversy. Later he said, "I have always respected the office of the President."

• Baltimore Ravens' offensive lineman Michael Oher tweeted: "Can somebody help me out? Who was Steve Jobs!" after Jobs' death in October.

Oher Tweeted that on his IPhone.

• A race car driver was fined $30,000 for losing his composure and making an obscene gesture. His name? Will Power.

• Basketball player Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace.

• Actor/comedian Albert Brooks tweeted this shortly after: "(L.A.)Dodgers file for bankruptcy. (Owner) Frank McCourt changes name to Metta World Bank."

• “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” -- Tennis player Serena Williams to a U.S. Open umpire.

• Steelers' linebacker James Harrison said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, "If he were on fire, I wouldn't (urinate) on him." Harrison apologized. No clarification on whether the apology means he would.

• Bryant Gumbel on his HBO show said NBA commissioner David Stern has always seemed "eager to be viewed as kind of a modern-day plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys."

He did not explain why anyone would be eager to do so.

• Wide receiver Roy Williams sued an ex-girlfriend for the return of a $76,600 engagement ring he mailed along with a DVD after she turned down his marriage offer. Who proposes by DVD and UPS? Roy Williams.

• "Honestly, I’m not saying this to disrespect him in any way." -- Ravens' receiver Derrick Mason, who called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a "joke" in a radio interview, then appeared on ESPN's First Take wearing a T-shirt that said "A JOKE."

• The Peoria Chiefs, the Chicago Cubs Class A team, staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Giveaway" after the Miami Heat fell short in the NBA Finals against Dallas in part because of James' poor play in fourth quarters.

When anyone affiliated with the Cubs is calling you a loser, you've hit rock bottom.

• Former baseball player and sometimes celebrity boxer Jose Canseco partnered with MyFanLine.com to charge people $50 a minute to talk to him on the phone.

• When St. John's scouted 6-9 forward God's Gift Achiuwa, recruiters were careful not to confuse him with his brother.

God's Will.

• Worst Tweet of the Year: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall apologized in a blog post for a tweet following the death of Osama bin Laden.

"It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."

• A San Francisco Giants' equipment manager testified in accused steroid user Barry Bonds' perjury trial that Bonds' hat size grew from 7 1/4 to 7 3/8 between 2000 and 2002 despite him shaving his head.

• "If you look at Trump's record, he is only interested in things he can control." -- Donald Trump, on why he would only become a partner in the New York Mets franchise if he could call the shots.

• “I really believe that the NFL would fall apart without me. That may sound cocky, that may sound arrogant, but I am telling you the truth.” -- agent Drew Rosenhaus to 60 Minutes.

No. It doesn't sound cocky or arrogant. It sounds like a case of mistaken identity.

He must think he's God.

Related: Bud Shaw's Year in Review (2010)

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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Pop Culture
Evel Knievel, Insurance Salesman
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To his coworkers at the Combined Insurance Company of America in Chicago, he was just Bob. A few months shy of his 24th birthday and newly married, Bob was ambitious, charming, and sincere—all qualities company president W. Clement Stone valued in his salesmen. To push high-volume, short-term disability insurance, customers needed to trust their words. Bob Knievel could look a man in the eyes and tell him that $3 worth of insurance was money well spent, and they'd believe him.

Years later, when Bob adopted the Evel Knievel persona and made breaking his bones a spectator sport, his former colleagues would stare at their televisions in amazement. There went Bob, clearing 10 or 14 or 20 cars on a motorcycle. There lies Bob, a heap of fractured limbs that needed to be scraped off the pavement like chewing gum.

In the span of just a few short years, the best insurance salesman in his assigned district had become the most famous daredevil in the world.

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Born in Butte, Montana, in 1938, Robert Knievel stole his first motorcycle at the age of 13. Prone to delinquency and petty crime, he failed to get a high school diploma and instead entered the U.S. Army Reserves. By the time he was 19 years old, he was out of uniform and starting up a semi-pro hockey team, drawing crowds at local arenas and even playing Olympic hopefuls from the Czech Republic. (Knievel’s team lost 22-3.)

By 1960, any discernible skills beyond mediocre athleticism and amoral behavior weren’t quite ready to reveal themselves. Knievel struck upon the idea of becoming a merchant policeman in Butte, which was a fancy term for being a private security specialist. Knievel would approach businesses and promise he’d act as a kind of sentry, checking their locations for suspicious activity and thwarting any robbery or vandalism attempts.

What Knievel wouldn’t admit until much later was that he was frequently the perpetrator of that activity, breaking windows and robbing the registers of businesses that didn’t sign up for his services. It was his version of property insurance.

A few things conspired to redirect Knievel’s ambitions. He married Linda Bork in 1959, and the couple started a family. He also grew concerned that Butte authorities were close to catching up with his security monitoring scam. In the summer of 1962, Knievel decided to go straight and become a salesman for Combined Insurance.

The company’s district manager in Montana dispatched Knievel to Chicago, where he underwent a two-week training course in sales tactics endorsed by president W. Clement Stone. Stone had co-authored a book, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, and considered it his business gospel. The lessons were at the level of fortune cookies and free of cynicism (“Big doors swing on little hinges,” “Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will”) but Knievel never once rolled his eyes. He absorbed the strategies and hit the road back in his home state, prepared to sell the $3 policies and collect his 60 cents per signature.

Earning an honest living at that rate would require volume. So Knievel traveled to working-class towns and paid bars to allow him to set up an “office” in a booth, where he could catch the steady stream of farmers coming in for a drink. He stopped workers at a train repair station during lunch breaks, and preached the virtues of the payments Combined would offer in the event the insured had an accident. Sometimes he’d pass up the $3 and do barter trades, like when a rancher once offered to give him a lame horse.

If Knievel had a crowning moment in his gone-straight, suit-and-tie life, it was when he set a district record for the most policies sold in a single week. He had talked his way into a state mental hospital in Warm Springs, Montana, and sold coverage to the staff—and if company legend is to be believed, to many of the hospital's patients as well. Knievel logged 271 sign-ups that week.

For this, Knievel got an award and recognition; he was feted by company executives as an example of the can-do spirit their president endorsed. While he enjoyed the attention, what Bob really wanted was to occupy the office of the vice president. When Combined refused to promote him, he quit. Without advancement in sight, making a living out of a suitcase ceased to be appealing. Knievel wanted to do something else.

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After leaving Combined, Knievel returned to his rudderless lifestyle. He found work at a motorcycle shop in Wyoming and thought a good way to drum up business would be to hop on a bike and try to jump over a pit infested with rattlesnakes.

It was.

That then gave him the idea to jump greater distances, which eventually led to him convincing the operators of Caesars Palace that he could make the 150-foot jump over the fountains near the front entrance of their Las Vegas resort and casino. He didn’t make it, but footage of the 1967 wipeout was absolutely mesmerizing: Airborne one minute and tumbling on the ground the next, Knievel looked like a crash test dummy. Convalescing in the hospital with multiple broken bones, Knievel’s popularity soared. He became one of the most famous men in America in the 1970s, rivaled only by Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali.

Matt Tonning, one of Knievel’s former coworkers at Combined, was one of the millions of people who saw the footage. He was alarmed, but not because of the gruesome outcome. Over the years, Knievel had phoned Tonning to catch up and buy policies—10 in all, which was nine more than a salesperson was technically allowed to sell to any one person. Tonning liked Knievel so much that he usually just entered another salesman’s name to complete the transaction. The policies could not be canceled and covered any accident.

At no point did Knievel ever list his current occupation: daredevil.

Tonning was fired. When Knievel heard of his friend’s dismissal, he agreed to drop claims on nine of the policies.

If there were any hard feelings, Knievel never voiced them. He would later credit the unflinching optimism of Stone and his book as one of the key reasons he became a professional cheater of death. Staring up at the ramps that would launch him into the air, those sales lessons led him to believe he could make it—even when past experience proved otherwise.

Additional Sources: Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel.

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Lists
20 People You Didn't Know Were Southpaws
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Pernell Whitaker
Simon Bruty / Getty Images

The "southpaw advantage" is more than just a boxing superstition. Fighting with a dominant left hand has helped some of the sport’s fiercest competitors rise to the top of their class. Here are 20 boxers who assumed the southpaw stance.

1. PERNELL WHITAKER

Pernell Whitaker launched his career at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when he defeated Cuban fighter Luis Ortiz (a fellow southpaw) to take home the gold. As a professional he claimed the world champion title in four weight classes: lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight, and light middleweight. Popular boxing magazine The Ring declared him the best boxer in the world pound-for-pound for a period in the 1990s.

2. MANNY PACQUIAO

Manny Pacquiao in the boxing ring.
Sunil Grover, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the best boxers of the 21st century also may be the most famous southpaw of all time. The Filipino athlete has racked up numerous distinctions over his career: He’s the first and only eight-division world champion, the first boxer to earn the lineal title across four weight divisions, and the first to win 10 world championships in eight classes. After achieving all that, he took a break from boxing to become a senator in the Philippines.

3. MARVIN JOHNSON

Marvin Johnson made a name for himself at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where he won a bronze medal boxing for the U.S. team. After returning to the States, he broke into the professional circuit and gained a 43-6 record during his 15-year career. He told his local Indianapolis news station in a 2008 interview, "Not trying to sound boastful, but I would describe myself as one of the best in the ring during my time."

4. TIGER FLOWERS

Portrait of Tiger Flowers.
Topical Press Agency / Stringer / Getty Images

Theodore "Tiger" Flowers entered the professional boxing ring at a time when the sport was still segregated in America. He broke racial barriers in 1926 when he became the first black man to earn the world middleweight title. Flowers is also credited for helping make integrated audiences a more common sight at boxing matches.

5. RAFAEL LIMÓN

Born in Mexico in 1954, Rafael Limón won world titles in the super featherweight division. His performance in the ring earned him the volatile nickname “Bazooka.”

6. ADA VÉLEZ

Boxer Ada Velez in the ring.
Yuri Cortez / Getty Images

Ada Vélez became the first Puerto Rican boxer to secure a women's world boxing title in 2001. In this case, it wasn’t her southpaw that gave her the winning advantage—the champion she unseated, Kathy Williams, is also a leftie.

7. LEW TENDLER

He may have never won a world title, but that didn’t stop Lew Tendler from becoming a boxing legend. The athlete ascended to prominence in the 1920s, a golden age for boxing in the United States. Today he’s immortalized in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

8. YOUNG CORBETT III

Two boxers in the ring.

Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born Ralph Giordano in Italy, Young Corbett III was most famous for holding the world welterweight title for a short stint in 1933. Of the 151 professional matches he fought in the 1930s and '40s, he came out victorious in 123.

9. CARMEN BASILIO

Portrait of Carmen Basilio.
Al Bello / Getty Images

Italian-American athlete Carmen Basilio is best known for his matches against boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson. He won the first of the storied fights in 1957. He was challenged to a rematch in 1958, and the second time, Robinson came out on top. After relinquishing his middleweight champion title to the victor, Basilio boxed only occasionally before retiring for good.

10. MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER

In 1987, Marvelous Marvin Hagler (his legal name) was the most formidable name in boxing. The American boxer was riding high on a seven-year reign as middleweight world champion, one of the longest streaks the class has ever seen. After defending his title 12 consecutive times, he made headlines for a different reason: losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in one of the most anticipated fights of the decade.

11. JACK PETERSEN

Boxers pose for photo in the ring.
Topical Press Agency / Stringer / Getty Images

Jack Peterson was 18 years old when he reached the finals of the Welsh Amateur Boxing Association in the late 1920s. He returned the next year to win two titles (he also claimed a title from the British Amateur Boxing Association that same year). After going professional, Jack Petersen earned his place in history as the first Welshman to be crowned British heavyweight champion.

12. OSCAR DE LA HOYA

Portrait of Oscar De La Hoya in the boxing ring.
Alexis Cuarezma / Stringer / Getty Images

Mexican-American boxer Oscar De La Hoya represented the U.S. at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when he was still a teenager. Earning gold in the featherweight division was just the start of his decorated career. From there he earned world titles in six different weight classes and became the top-earning pay-per-view athlete of his day.

13. CHRIS BYRD

Boxer Chris Byrd hits Andrew Golota.
Al Bello / Getty Images

There was a second southpaw competing for the U.S. at the Barcelona Olympics. During the 1992 games Chris Byrd took home the silver medal in the middleweight division. In the years to follow he rose to the ranks of two-time heavyweight world champion.

14. HECTOR CAMACHO

Hector
Tom Pidgeon / Stringer / Getty Images

Hector "Macho" Camacho’s quick punches and fancy footwork helped him bag world titles across multiple weight classes in the 1980s and early '90s. He was known for his flashy brand of showmanship: Some of the outfits he wore in the ring included a Roman gladiator costume and a monogrammed fur robe.

15. HOLLY HOLM

Holly Holm celebrates victory over Ronda Rousey.
Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

As a boxer, Holly Holm has earned and defended world champion titles many times over. She’s also known for being one of the few fighters to defeat superstar Ronda Rousey in the mixed martial arts ring.

16. GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX

Guillermo Rigondeaux throws a right to the face of Drian Francisco during their junior featherweight bout.
Al Bello / Getty Images

Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux is the current holder of the super bantamweight world title. He's also the owner of two Olympic gold medals—one he received in 2000 and the other in 2004.

17. SERGIO MARTINEZ

Sergio Martinez in boxing gear.
Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

From 2010 to 2014, Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez dominated as champion in the lineal middleweight division. He officially retired one year after losing the honor to Miguel Cotto.

18. REGGIE JOHNSON

James Toney throws a punch at Reggie Johnson during a fight.
Ken Levine / Getty Images

One of only eight men to win a world light heavyweight title after earning a title in middleweight, Reggie Johnson was one of boxing’s brightest stars in the late 1990s. He lost his light heavyweight title to Roy Jones Jr. in 1999, but even his rival had nothing but respect for the native Texan. Jones spoke of him to The Ring: “You won’t find a better person than Reggie Johnson in boxing.”

19. VICENTE SALDIVAR

Vicente "Southpaw" Saldivar is famous for more than his left-sided fighting stance. The Mexico City native competed in the 1960 Olympics, held world featherweight titles, and fought before massive crowds. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.

20. ERISLANDY LARA

Erislandy Lara in the boxing ring.
Rob Foldy / Stringer / Getty Images

The junior middleweight world title currently belongs to Erislandy Lara. He adopted the nickname "The American Dream" after defecting from Cuba, and in early 2017 the boxer became an American citizen.

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