Remembering L.A., Not in Wrong Way

The “100 Greatest Moments in Los Angeles Sports History.” What do you think they are?

The Los Angeles Sports Council thinks it knows. It’s publishing a book, “Unforgettable! The 100 Greatest Moments in Los Angeles Sports History,” and holding a banquet in Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 12 to celebrate its release.

I know what the 100 are, and I know what the top 12 of these are. But not the order in which they have been picked.

I hate to be quarrelsome, but my personal pick is not in there. My personal top pick would be Roy Riegels’ wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl game.


No, I wasn’t there! It’s just that I know the incident went into the language. To “do a Riegels” for years meant to go about something fast-backward, to coin a phrase.

I’m told that Riegels never completely recovered psychologically from his gaffe, which cost his team, California, the game. He felt disgraced, became resentful, reclusive, remorseful. Too bad. Today, he’d probably have his own talk show, be asked his opinion on Bosnia--run for the Senate, maybe. Society was tougher on goof-ups in his day.

I remember the incident for another reason: Riegels wasn’t the only one who went the wrong way that day. A photographer friend of mine, Sam Sansone, working for the old Examiner, was also down in the wrong end zone that day, probably nursing a hangover, when he suddenly looked up and saw Riegels and snapped the picture that went all over the country on Page 1 the next day. That cut no ice with Sam’s sports editor, the curmudgeonly Mark Kelly, who printed the picture, then fired Sam for being in the wrong place--even though at the right time.

You have to agree with one of the Sports Council’s top 12--Kirk Gibson’s dramatic ninth-inning home run in the ’88 World Series that not only won the first game but, in a sense, the whole Series.

I remember that for a different reason too. The sporting world forgets that there was another dramatic homer hit in that game. It was in the second inning. The Dodgers were ahead of Oakland, 2-0, but the A’s loaded the bases and Jose Canseco came up. Jose unloaded one of the most awesome homers I have ever seen. It never seemed to get more than 15 feet in the air, but it took off like a missile to center field, where it still had so much velocity it broke a TV camera.

I had written a whole column on it when Gibson limped to bat in the ninth. I looked at Gibson and I told myself, “He’s got to pop out--he can hardly walk!” He popped out, all right. Out to the right-field bleachers.

I’m the only one who remembers Canseco’s home run. I remember it because I had to scrap my story on it and substitute one on Gibson’s--on deadline.

The other top 12 of L.A.'s Unforgettable include the 1932 Olympics and the 1984 Olympics. Also saluted are the Dodgers’ move to L.A., Anthony Davis and the 1974 USC victory over Notre Dame and Sandy Koufax’s fourth no-hitter and perfect game in 1965.

The 1974 Notre Dame-USC game belongs in any anthology. USC was behind, 24-0, with one minute to play in the first half. The Trojans went into the locker room behind, 24-6. Now, I have seen teams behind, 24-6, at the half come back to win. But usually by 27-24 or even 31-27 or some such. USC, sparked by Anthony Davis’ second-half kickoff return of 102 yards, exploded. The Trojans rolled up 49 points so fast the scoreboard had a nervous breakdown. So did the Irish. USC actually had a 55-24 lead with nine minutes to play when the Trojans lifted the first team!

That was laudable, but I might have put in this list a game in which the Irish weren’t so charitable, the 1966 game, which belongs in the Unforgettable list because Notre Dame won, 51-0. B-i-i-g mistake! Notre Dame didn’t defeat USC again for six years and won only once in nine years.

For somewhat the same reasons, I might include the 1954 UCLA Bruins’ defeat of Stanford, 72-0. B-i-i-g mistake No. 2! The Stanford Politically Corrects, outraged, set about to help blow up the old Pacific Coast Conference in the ensuing infighting. UCLA (and USC) had to play half a season with half of its eligible players and it was six years before an L.A. school returned to a Rose Bowl.

The Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles is one of the Doughty Dozen. No quarrel here. It changed the face of Los Angeles sports forever. Only trouble is, I’m not sure the Rams’ move here in 1946 wasn’t as historically important if not more so. Showed L.A. was not only for the big leagues, it could outdraw them.

On the Dodgers’ arrival in L.A., the mind flashes back to the team arriving for the first time in the city of the Angels having never seen their new home field, the reconfigured L.A. Coliseum. A reporter waiting at the bottom of the airplane ramp confronted the Dodger team captain, Pee Wee Reese. “Mr. Reese,” he said, “are you aware that in a game in the Coliseum yesterday, the USC Trojans--a college team!--hit 11 homers!?” Reese remained calm. “Just tell me one thing,” he said to the reporter. “Who was pitching?”

Reese was right. The most home runs hit in a season in the Coliseum was 25 by Gil Hodges. It made him, say, ninth in the league.

You’re surprised Maury Wills’ stealing more than 100 bases for the first time in baseball history, while in the top 100, didn’t make the top 12. Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali fought in L.A. They’re not even in the 100, never mind at the top of the charts.

Of course, the essence of sports is controversy. Without it, what you’ve got is synchronized swimming. And the selection of the No. 1 Great Moment of L.A.'s rich history will be revealed at the black-tie banquet Nov. 12.

You may like the Dodgers’ move to L.A. Or you may like the Rams’ move out of L.A., which may one day rank as the corporate equivalent of Roy Riegels’ run.

Hey! The original “world’s fastest human"--Charley Paddock--came from here. Ben Hogan became “the Hawk” here when he won his first U.S. Open at Riviera, the only U.S. Open ever held in Southern California.

Shoemaker rode here, Seabiscuit raced here, Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors aced here, Fernando pitched here, the first Super Bowl was held here, the first bowl game of any kind, the first World Cup in the United States and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, albeit in San Francisco and San Diego uniforms from the Pacific Coast League, homered here.

What other town has 100 sports memories to top ours? Pardon me while we stick out our chests. Hand me those pompons and give us a chorus of “Fight On!”