The 2001 Yankees is Sports’ Greatest Tragedy Story

On November 4th 2001, I was lying in bed listening to game 7 of the 2001 World Series on radio. My father wouldn’t let me watch past a certain time because I had school the next day. I forget when, but at some point he came into my room and invited me into his to watch. I’ll never forget that.

My team was coming off three consecutive World Series wins and on the verge of number four. As an 11 year old, I  had only seen success. Four World Series championships watered down by my spoiled subconscious telling me, “Of course the Yankees will win.” I had never seen anything different.

And then this happened.

In that moment, shock, confusion, and disbelief showed me sports are never scripted. It’s the ultimate reality television. My team is mortal.

But wasn’t it supposed to be the perfect storm?

The Capital of the World, ravaged by arguably the worst terrorist attack in recordable history, overcomes all odds to win the championship of America’s Pastime, odds that included:

– A month earlier: Derek Jeter’s game-saving flip to Jorge Posada against the Athletics helped the Yankees rally from two games down to win the ALDS
– Four days prior: A ninth-inning, two-run, game-tying home run preceded an extra-inning walk-off win at Yankee Stadium
– Three days prior: The same thing, off the same pitcher

(According to baseball reference, entering the ninth inning, the Yankees had a 10% chance to win those games. One in 100 to win both)

It’s tough to paint the Yankees as the victim in sports’ greatest tragedy, but that’s what gives this story the added dimension – everyone hates the Yankees. September 11th temporarily changed that, and never again will the Evil Empire have more likeability than they did that postseason.

My thesis statement here is the headline of this article. The pieces were in place for a perfect story.

Until the last chapter, it was.

The goat of that last chapter, Mariano Rivera will retire at the end of the 2013 season. The greatest closer of all time will no longer throw his golden pitch. The number 42 will never again make the red carpet jog from the Yankee Stadium bullpen to its mound. Enter Sandman will be retired.

Yes, players of all sports post tangible numbers, but different fans assign different weight to different stats, thus rarely is one player unanimously rendered “The Greatest”.

Can you make the argument why Mariano Rivera isn’t the greatest closer of all time?

*Arguing a “closer” needs to throw more than an inning, ala Goose Gossage or Dennis Eckersley, is the sole sound argument I’ve heard against Rivera, but I think that argument is lame when stacked up against Rivera’s consistent numbers.*

His career’s only beauty mark  came November 4th, 2001.

On baseball’s biggest stage, in the world’s biggest city, facing the world’s worst terroist attack in recent memory, a country came together as the tattered American flag from the North Tower waved bravely above Yankee Stadium, where 13 miles away the fire still burned. Instead, a small market team from Arizona celebrated.

What sports tragedy compares? For argument’s sake, I don’t count stories like the Marshall University tragedy or similar others that transcend sports. If you can think of others, I want to hear. I don’t want my bias as a Yankees fan to influence my opinion. I simply couldn’t think of another sports tragedy equal.

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If healthy, RGIII will be the best quarterback in the league by 2015

It started with Michael Vick. A revolutionary quarterback who forced defenses to sacrifice a defender for a spy. A quarterback who can turn a broken play into a 20 yard run.

Sounds enticing, but Vick never was a great quarterback, just one that makes magic with his feet. Vick didn’t throw to a 60% completion percentage until his eighth year in the league and probably won’t win a Super Bowl. And we all know about his turnover rate.

But imagine Peyton Manning with Vick’s legs. Picture Aaron Rodgers en route to a game-winning 78-yard touchdown run after his third and fourth options were covered.

In his rookie season, the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III averaged fewer interceptions per pass than every other starting quarterback (five int. in 258 attempts; 1.3%) and threw to a 65.6% completion rate. For their careers, Manning sits at 65.2% and Rodgers at 65.7%.

Griffin’s numbers
Vick’s numbers
Peyton’s numbers
Rodgers’ numbers

In his seven full seasons as a starter, Vick eclipsed RGIII’s 2012 total of 3200 passing yards only once (2011) and only twice rushed for more yards than Griffin’s 2012 tally of 815.

But it was Griffin’s 4.41 dash in the ’12 combine that foreshadowed his dazzling ground work during the regular season. Like Vick, Griffin can break out for 13 fantasy points on one play (below). Unlike Vick, it seems Griffin can protect the football and throw accurately.

If Griffin can somehow extract enough passing potential to work up to Manning or Rodgers’ level, then his edge in the footrace department would put him at a separate level of any quarterback in NFL history.

Before we get gung-ho, we must acknowledge health when evaluating RGIII’s style of play. If he wants to remain in the league, he needs to become a pass-first quarterback who can dive into the arsenal if needed, not the other way around.

Picture this scenario – it happened week 13 against the New York Giants.

Redskins up a point with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have the ball and the Giants have two timeouts.

In this situation most offenses run the ball to eat up clock. The defense knows, so late-game situations such as these usually result in a three-and-out and a punt with two minutes or so left.

But with RGIII you don’t hand the ball off, you run the option. The defense now has to worry about a separate threat with a proportion of attention on each. What is usually a gimme three-and-out is now a mind game between Griffin and the defense.

In that game, the Giants couldn’t stop the combination of Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris, the Redskins ran out the clock, and took a must-win away from the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Griffin’s unique late-game threat will lead to more wins such as these.

Take this likeable fella and evaluate his numbers. In four years compare his passing numbers the elite ones and his running numbers to Vick’s. If he keeps pace with those guys like he did this season, you could be watching the greatest quarterback of all time.

But let’s get that knee back in order first.