Inside a quiet baseball locker room, aka the clubhouse, in old, decrepit Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Tigers players changed, showered and tried to wash away the sting of another tough defeat.
One of them was still talking to the media. He tried to put a positive spin on what was becoming a nightmare weekend north of the border.
The Toronto Blue Jays had rallied from a 9-4 deficit on a Saturday afternoon, passing the Tigers at the finish line, 10-9, in a nationally-televised affair.
The Jays scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap their furious comeback.
It was September 26, 1987.
With the loss, the Tigers were on the wrong end of three straight contests in Toronto—all one-run defeats—and the American League East flag was slipping from their grasp.
The Tigers arrived in Toronto a half-game behind the Blue Jays on Thursday, but by late afternoon on Saturday, in front of the NBC Sports cameras, the Jays’ lead had ballooned to 3.5 games.
The Tigers had just eight games remaining, the Blue Jays had seven. The magic number for Toronto to clinch the division had shrunk to a measly five.
Kirk Gibson stood among the reporters and in a soft voice, Gibby tried gamely to send a positive message—to the fans back in Detroit and to baseball observers everywhere.
“Maybe we’re setting the biggest bear trap in history,” Gibson said as tape recorders whirred and pens wrote feverishly.
The next day, Gibson, one of the greatest clutch hitters in baseball history—certainly in Tigers history—came through yet again.
Gibby slammed a solo home run off Jays closer Tom Henke in the ninth inning, tying the game, 1-1. In the 13th inning, Gibson did it again, singling home Jim Walewander with the eventual game-winning run as the Tigers survived, 3-2.
The Tigers were still kicking. The bear trap was closing slightly.
The Tigers, of course, came all the way back and swiped the division from the Blue Jays, who dropped their last seven games—including the season’s final trio of contests in Detroit.
And Kirk Gibson’s words, “Maybe we’re setting the biggest bear trap in history,” became part of Detroit sports legend.
So, heard any good quotes lately?
There’s great irony in that question.
There have never been more words written, spoken, reported and recited than today. The digital age and social media see to that.
Yet we’re suffering through quantity rather than quality.
Despite all these words, nobody is saying anything memorable—and for these purposes, I’m talking about sports in particular.
A beleaguered football coach stares at the pigeons’ shadows as they gather on top of the Pontiac Silverdome. This is 1988.
An intrepid reporter sidles up to the coach and asks him what he’s looking at—since practice is going on at the same time.
The coach says he is counting pigeons.
Then the coach of the sad sack Lions looks at the reporter and wonders out loud, “What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?”
Darryl Rogers’ words, spoken to Jerry Green that fall day in 1988, are woven into Lions lore.
Rogers was indeed fired, weeks later.
Where are all the memorable sports quotes?
There’s a lot of trash talk. A lot of posturing. A lot of tweets and Instagram posts.
But there’s no “there” there.
Quantity over quality.
The bellicose linebacker is in his glory on Super Bowl media day. He’s taking the opportunity to take jabs at the opposing quarterback.
The linebacker is so flashy and verbose, his nickname—self-anointed—is “Hollywood.”
“Terry Bradshaw is so dumb, he couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’,” the linebacker, Thomas Henderson, says to the media. This is 1979.
In Super Bowl XIII, Bradshaw then systematically destroyed Henderson’s Dallas Cowboys, throwing for 318 yards and four TDs. The Pittsburgh Steelers won, 35-31, and Bradshaw is named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
It was reported that after the game, Bradshaw sought out Henderson and said, “Hey Hollywood! Spell this: M-V-P!”
Good stuff. But so few and far between these days.
Here’s what a sports quote looks like today: “Blah blah blah. And blah, blah, blah. Blah!”
Or that’s what it seems like, anyway.
I submit that we have lost the art of the memorable sports quote because too many people are talking about too much stuff at the same time.
The Internet strikes again.
Now, I do see clever tweets from time to time. Some users of that medium are pretty good at using those 140 characters to their maximum.
But Twitter is fleeting. The content there has the shelf life of hot eggs.
I’m talking about gems that will be repeated 10, 15, 20 years from now—and longer.
The brash, abrasive baseball manager has had his fill of his owner and his superstar slugger.
The manager works in New York and for the Yankees—which was his dream job but it comes with baggage.
Annoyed with George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin boils over.
“One’s a born liar and the other is convicted,” Martin seethes in the summer of 1978. Billy is referring to Jackson in the former and Steinbrenner in the latter.
Billy is fired for his rant, which is also part of his legend—and that of the Yankees.
The great quotes of yesteryear, I believe, would today suffer the same ignominy of their less-salient counterparts. That is, they’d be quickly forgotten.
Quantity over quality.
The oddball running back, a pro football nomad, has landed in Detroit, one of his many stops in the NFL circuit.
The running back has a reputation for driving coaches to drink, and worse.
The coach of the Lions wants to send in a play to his quarterback in a real, actual NFL game. So he enlists the help of his new, oddball running back.
The running back has the apt last name of Looney—Joe Don Looney.
Looney looks at the coach, Harry Gilmer, aghast at the orders to jog to the huddle with a new play.
“If you want a messenger, send for Western Union!” Looney says to the incredulous Gilmer.
Those were the days.