Great Quotes Are Too Good to Be True

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History, someone once said, is humbug.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the quotes of famous men.

Perhaps you noticed in the public journals of recent dates where a former press secretary of the President of the United States cops out to inventing quotes to make his boss look good.

Presumably these deathless lines will find their way into Bartlett’s as the public utterances of the chief executive and not some ink-stained wretch running the oval office briefings.

But it calls into question the whole fabric of famous quotes. Did Benjamin Franklin really say: “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”?


Or was what he actually said: “Hang it, men, can’t we get together on this? Or do we have to get separate checks.”?

Did Nathan Hale really just say: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”? Or did he add: “If I had two I wouldn’t mind.”?

Did Adm. David Farragut really say: “Damn the torpedoes! . . . Go ahead!”? Or was what he said: “Damn! The torpedoes! Watch your head!”

You have to wonder about the world of sport, too. Did all those athletic heroes say what they’re supposed to have said? Let’s see.

Question: Did Bill Terry, manager of the New York Giants, actually say, “Is Brooklyn still in the league?” the sarcastic quote that cost him the 1934 pennant?

Answer: No, what Terry actually said was: “I hear on the grapevine the Dodgers are moving to Los Angeles. Have they gone yet?”


Q: Yale Coach Tad Jones is famous for having said to his team before the 1914 Harvard game: “Gentlemen, you are about to play a game against Harvard. Nothing you do in your lives will ever again be so important as what you do here today.” Is this what he said?

A: No. What Coach Jones actually told the team was: “Look, we’ve got a football game against Harvard this afternoon and from what I can see you guys haven’t got anything better to do and aren’t going anyplace.

“From what I can see of your grades, the same is true of the rest of your lives. So why don’t you skip the tables down at Mory’s and the place where Louie dwells for just one afternoon in your lives and do something worthwhile you’ll want to remember for a change?”

Q: Leo Durocher is famous for having said: “Nice guys finish last.” Did he say it?

A: Not quite. What Leo said was, “It’s easy to be a nice guy when you finish last. That way, you don’t have to turn down a whole bunch of Little League banquets. Nobody even wants your autograph.”

Q: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” has been attributed to half a dozen football coaches, among them, Red Sanders, Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant. Did any of them say it?

A: No. A state teachers’ college coach whose team had just lost its 23rd straight game once cried: “Everything I ever asked you guys was just to try to win once in a while. But, no, the only thing you guys can do is lose.”


Then someone asked the backup quarterback what the coach said and he answered: “Coach, he say winning isn’t everything. With you guys, losing is the onliest thing.”

When the coach heard this garbled version, he complained bitterly: “See! You guys don’t even listen to me!”

Which is a quote since attributed to Mike Ditka.

Q: Jack Dempsey, after his first defeat by Gene Tunney, has been variously quoted as having said to his wife: “Honey, I forgot to duck,” or, “Honey, I zigged when I should have zagged.” What did he say?

A: Neither of the above. What Dempsey said was: “Everybody told me I should have ducked this guy and fought Firpo again but I forgot.”

Q: Knute Rockne, the old Notre Dame coach, is said to have told his team that legendary halfback George Gipp, on his deathbed, exhorted the old coach to ask the boys “ . . . to win just one for the Gipper.” Do you believe this?

A: Well, there is little doubt Rockne said that Gipp told him this. The best guess, though, is that Gipp thought he was talking to his doctor.


Q: Arnold Palmer, after hitting 4 balls out of bounds and taking a 12 on the ninth hole at Rancho, came into the press tent and, when someone asked him what happened, reportedly answered: “I missed a short putt for an 11.” Did he?

A: Not quite. What happened was, someone asked how come he shot 82 and Arnold answered, “I was putting lousy out there today.”

Well, you can see what a tricky business quotes can be. It wasn’t only General Custer who said: “The Indians will never be a factor.” The Vegas books are the latest victims of an Indian uprising.

And we all know now that Grantland Rice was misquoted. He didn’t write: “When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks, not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” Looking ahead to the ‘80s ballplayer, what he meant was, “It’s not whether you won or lost, it’s how much you got paid to play the game.”