By Gary Norris Gray, Staff Reporter
“YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME”- Herm Edwards stated this many years ago in New York City but the following athletes never got a chance or will never get a chance to prove that they were the best in their sport. These twelve athletes would have broken many records if they had stayed healthy. Wish they all could go back in time and play the game they loved again.
- Bo Jackson
Vincent Edward Jackson one of the greatest athletes of our time could not continue because his body would not allow him to play. Mr. Jackson played in two sports, baseball and football. It has only been done once since, Bo, that was done by Prime Time, Deion Sanders of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves along with Dave DeBusschere of the New York Knicks and Detroit Tigers. Ten years before Sanders.
Jackson would run over players on the football field and climb walls on the baseball diamond. The body strength of this man still amazes many fans. He returned to baseball after hip surgery which was unheard of at that time. A healthy Bo Jackson would have shattered records in the National Football League and scared many Major League Baseball pitchers at the plate with his bat.
Within a month after Jackson injury in Cincinnati he was diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the hip joint which can be degenerative if it is not corrected quickly. He also lost cartilage in that damaged hip. Mr. Jackson could no longer play football and played baseball with the Chicago White Sox for a short time before retirement.
- Sandy Koufax
Koufax was one of the first group of pitchers who moved from New York to California who starred for both the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. Arthritis took out one of the best pitchers of our times with 165 wins and World Series victories. He pitched a no hitter and received the triple crown of pitching for three years in a row ERA (earn run average), wins, and strikeouts dominating the game between 1961-1964.
- Tiger Woods
Mr. Woods could have been the greatest golfers of all times with his determination on the golf course. He won a major on a broken leg, “how many players have done that?” but a broken marriage, a broken will, and a bad back stopped him at 17 Majors victories. Woods is three major victories behind the legend Jack Nicklaus. Father Time is catching up with Tiger Woods and Father Time is undefeated.
- Warren Wells
Substance abuse, Mental issues, and Arrest
Warren Wells would have broken many records if he had played at least three more years. He was one of the best Oakland Raiders wide receivers to ever wear the Black and Silver. He played two complete seasons in Oakland Alameda County Coliseum lighting up the scoreboard..The Mad Bomber, quarterback Daryl Lamonica and Warren Wells stretched defenses to their limits and forced coaches to use a disguised zone, which was illegal. He lead the league with receiving yards 1,260 and average over 20 plus yards per catch with the old AFL-NFL rules of defenders clutching and grabbing receivers all the way down the field. Now imagine Warren Wells playing in the NFL today he would be a fantasy football God. Rest In Peace Brother Wells.
- Mario Lemieux
Back, Cancer, Disc, Hip flexor
Super Mario thought he was the second coming of number 99 Wayne Gretzky wearing the number 66, “The Magnificent One” or Le Magnifique played consistently in the shadows of number 99. The Pittsburgh Penguins would win five Stanley Cups, and Mario won the MVP and scoring championship. He was a multiple All Star, but it seemed like it was not enough.
The difference between Gretzky and Lemieux were clear. Number 99 scored goals fast with his speed and grace on the ice, number 66 would pile drive his way to the net camping out at the slot (goal crease) waiting for a pass from his teammates using his size to score moving opponents away from him . In his later years he would enter the offensive zone and head straight for the net area and not move until the puck came close to him.
He is still the only player to score five different ways in one game. A power play goal, a shorthanded goal, a even strength goal, an empty net goal, and a penalty shot. It has not happen again.
Lemieux would miss two full season and retired twice because of the body pain. Even if he played those two seasons he might not have scored enough goals to catch Gretzky.
- Michelle Wie
Wrist, Bone chips, Neck, Back, Knee, and Ankle
The pressure was put on this young woman at an early age to perform every time she stepped on the golf course. Following in her mother Bo, who won the amateur woman’s championship in South Korea 1985. Michelle followed in her mother’s footsteps with her golf clubs at the age of four. In 2000 Wie became the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Open and the youngest to make the cut in 2003.
Ms. Wie has won five LPGA Ladies Professional Golfing Association Championships but many more could have been won if Michelle had participated in more women’s tour then men. Many golf fans insist that Wie’s playing tournaments with men caused her to change her swing, creating the mounting injuries. Emulating the unusual torque of a golf swing by Tiger Woods.
Cannot believe that Michelle Wie will be 30 years old this year and might be moving on from golf as she marries Jerry West’s son Johnnie West the second weekend of August in Beverly Hills, California.
- Roger Maris
Broken hand, a Bone chip, Hip bone bruise
Maris seem to always be the third or fourth famous player in New York Yankee pinstripes behind The Babe, Gehrig, and The Mick. Maris had to deal with an unforgiving New York press corps even though he broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. The press would not leave him alone until the single season home run record was broken, the press would not let Roger forget he had more games to reach the 61 plateau. Roger Maris retired a St. Louis Cardinal which did not set well with many New Yorkers because it was the direct National League rival to the Bronx Bombers.
Hitting 275 carrier home runs, not enough, hitting 61 homers in one season, not enough. This is the legacy of a farm boy from Minnesota.
- Ray Emery
Hip, Torn abdominal muscles,
Sugar Ray-Ray Emery got the name because of his fighting skills on the ice, a.k.a. Sugar Ray Robinson. He was one of my favorite goalies because of his style of play in the nets. He made me a Ottawa Senator fan for life. Ray Emery was one of the first goalies to combine the butterfly style with the standard stand up goalie style. Goal scorers could not figure out the best way to score against him, high or low. This skill kept him in the league.
Emery could not shake the backup role even after the record breaking start in 2005-06 win nine wins in a row his rookie season. He also won 17 in a row in Chicago when he first arrived with the Blackhawks. Where-ever he went he won consistently in Ottawa, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Anaheim but as a backup.
Ray had to defend himself year after year and would not back off of any fight. He became famous after the donnybrook in Buffalo where he took on the Sabre goaltender in the middle of the ice.
The League also showed its racial difficulties and started to change its attitude toward Black Goalies. In the 1950-60’s the worst skater would end up in net. Emery and the new Black goalie infusion changed this attitude with their skilled skating in the 1970’s. The league knew that goalies were the new stars of the game just as quarterbacks in the National Football League and Black skaters had to be limited. Emery was the first salvo in this unwritten limitation by the league to control Black goalies, even though Sugar Ray won he would be shipped (traded) from team to team and never maintaining the starting position. This cost him victories with the inconsistencies from moving from team to team.
Emery had the same medical issues that Bo Jackson had but the doctors caught the disease in time for him to return to the ice. “The Razor,” (his second name) still missed a season because of this serious injury and never returned to full strength the rest of his carrier.
In Ray Emery style he won six in a row in Anaheim leading the Ducks to the playoffs and repeated in Chicago getting the Hawks to the playoffs. Sugar Ray is one of the most underrated goalies of our times. Rest in Peace Brother Ray Emery.
- J.R. Richard
Stroke, Blood clot
J. R. Richard on the mound for the Houston Astros in the 1980 was a scary sight because of his size, his long arms, and his fast ball. Richard was the original Big Unit before there was Randy Johnson. The lanky tall right hander hid the ball during delivery and this drove batters crazy because they could not pick up the ball before it cross home plate. Richard could also be wild as batters dove for the dirt on many occasions.
Richard was an all-star at a very young age and would bounce from minors to majors many times because of his inconsistent control on the mound. Once J.R. found his stride nobody could stop him in 1976-81, leading the league in strikeouts, ERA, and hits allowed per nine innings.
A blood clot in his neck caused a stroke and almost ended his life. The Houston Astros and Richard fought over his physical health before the stroke in 1980. He complained to the Houston medical staff that he had a dead arm that felt heavy. The Astros organization did not believe him and told him to keep pitching. He is lucky the medical staff at the Astrodome acted quickly to get medical attention. J.R. was on the road to breaking the major league record for strikeouts. It would not happen because Richard was never the same after the stroke.
- Eric Lindros
This is a classic example of a spoiled brat with great hockey skills. Eric Lindros was one of the biggest men in hockey at six feet four inches and over two hundred fifty pounds. He was truly a power forward that played center. He would bounce defenders off the boards with this big body. Lindros would not listen to doctors, teammates, and coaches about his health and playing time. This would get him into trouble time and time again.
Lindros was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1991 in the Entry Draft which he did not want to wear the sky blue and white because the team happened to be in last place and in Canada. He wanted to be a star in the United States. The Nordiques finally traded him to Philadelphia where he became a superstar. He would score a point a game which was incredible at the time.
Lindros would also use his big body to score goals in tight spots and became the captain of the famous “Legion of Doom” leading them to the playoffs for the first time in six years. The joy in Philly orange did not last long. After seven years in Philadelphia Lindros’ health began to take a tailspin and a fight with general manager Bobby Clarke did not help. In a game in Nashville Lindros suffered a rib injury. The club wanted him to fly back to Philadelphia; but teammates instead took him to a local hospital and saved his life.
Two years later New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens lowered his shoulder and ran into Eric in the middle of the ice in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals creating his second concussion in a week. The Flyers lost game seven and Lindros was traded to the New York Rangers the following spring. The injury bug would not shake Lindros with three more concussions in New York.
Lindros would play for the Toronto Maple Leafs in another contract disputed season he broke his wrist creating another issue as Eric would leave Canada for his last team, the Dallas Stars.
Lindros could have scored a goal a game the rest of his carrier if he had stayed healthy.
- Carey Price
Knee, Groin, MCL sprain, Concussion, Fatigue
If this player had played 80% of his game he would be leading the league in victories and games played taking over the lead from Hall of Fame All Star New Jersey Devil goaltender Martin Brodeur. It would not happen.
Carey Price took the mantle from Patrick Roy in Montreal and should be the number one goalie in the number of wins but every year Price missed games due to injury. In 2015 Price missed 70 games with a knee injury this has been the story for this butterfly defending goalie his whole carrier.With all of these injuries he has won over 270 games with one team, The Montreal Canadiens. Price has always been number one and did not have to fight to regain his starting position unlike other goalies.
This man had a heavy load following in the footsteps of Hall of Fame Hab goalie Patrick Roy. Roy started the butterfly goalie craze and Price just continued it in Canada. The end is coming near for number 31 the last question will be can he reach 300 victories without another injury?
12. Daunte Culpepper
Torn Ligaments, ACL, MCL, Shoulder
The National Football League wanted a big, strong, tall quarterback and in 1999 Daunte Culpepper was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. In the 1999 draft which featured Donovan McNabb, Culpepper would also joined the professional ranks. One year later he would pass for over 3, 000 yards and 33 touchdowns a good start for the young quarterback. Because of his height he could survey the field throwing to the open receiver. He also had the firepower of a James Harris as the ball flew down the field. If he did this every year he would have sooner or later lead the league in passing. This is one instance that being a pocket quarterback would have protected him from injury.
Then the EA Sports Madden Curse (cover of the video game) struck and Culpepper had three bad seasons in a row and injuries kept piling up. The curse was that if your photo appeared on the cover of the Madden Video Football Game you were going to have a very bad year. It happened to Daunte the next three years, Culpepper did not preform well on the field and it cost him a contract in Minnesota. Also the fact of being a Black quarterback did not help.
Then came the cruise boat incident in the off season and things would never be the same. The charges of lewd conduct on the boat with his teammates were dropped but Culpepper’s days in Minnesota were numbered. He would get traded to Miami and fight for the starting job the rest of his carrier.
While in Miami he had his knee scoped to clean out the bone chips floating in the knee. New head coach Nick Saban put him on I.R. Injured reserve. Culpepper could not get his starting job back with the Dolphins and it cost him another year.
Culpepper would sit on the bench in the backup role in Oakland under new head coach Lane Kiffin wasting his talent, again. The Raiders were going nowhere fast as starter Josh McCown went down with an injury in game three. The Raiders were also negotiating a contract with JaMarcus Russell at the same time. Complete confusion with the team by the bay. Culpepper would not finish the season in Oakland with another injury off the field after game 15. He never wore the Silver and Black again.
Number 11 retired for six months and waited for another chance at football, The Detroit Lions came calling and Daunte wanted to play. Culpepper started four games before the injury bug hit again. It might have been the best thing for him because the team went 0-16. This time the injury was his shoulder and this time was truly the end of a disappointing quarterback carrier.
Daunte Culpepper with his throwing skills and vision should have been one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL. Bad luck, injuries, and bad decisions shortened his stay in professional sports.
These twelve athletes could have changed history if they had stayed healthy if they had listen to doctors or their team coaches. Three of them still have a slim chance to make my wish come true.
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian, Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston, Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor Pad Network, Disabled Community Activist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray @ Gray Leopard Prod