Commentary

What if ...

"Fringe" exec producer Jeff Pinkner puts forth a sports scenarios that might have been

Updated: February 24, 2011, 12:45 PM ET
By Jeff Pinkner | Special to ESPN The Magazine

What if? Have any two words started more dorm debates? What if Washington had drowned attempting to cross the Delaware -- would America still be saluting the Queen? What if Jenny Porter and I hadn't broken up in junior year -- would we be married and living in Chicago with two kids and a French bulldog? Seriously, what if I had flippers instead of fingers -- how would I hold this beer?

"Fringe," the TV show J.H. Wyman and I run, imagines an alternate universe -- a world like ours, populated with people just like us, but with subtle differences brought about by historical tweaks. In the Fringe world, the Statue of Liberty retains its copper sheen because she's never been allowed to oxidize, we fly in zeppelins because the Hindenburg disaster never happened and Len Bias is a living member of basketball's Hall of Fame, having led Boston to five titles instead of OD'ing two days after draft night.

The Mag asked me to apply the same fuzzy, godlike logic to other sports scenarios. Here's how it all would have unfolded had one moment gone another way.


In 1983, instead of demanding a trade and landing in Denver, John Elway agrees to play football in Baltimore ...

Illustration by Eddie Guy

1. He has a brilliant rookie season and energizes the city, so ...

2. Robert Irsay doesn't feel the need to sneak the Colts out of town the next year. As a result ...

3. The Browns never leave Cleveland, although in 1995, the Los Angeles Rams spurn an offer from St. Louis for a better one, and ...

4. It is the Indianapolis Rams that defeat the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, while ...

5. Elway has a Hall of Fame career with the Colts but never wins a ring. He does, however, appear in Baltimore native Barry Levinson's film Return to the Diner, which leads to a string of small roles in Adam Sandler movies.


In 1992, the Falcons don't trade Brett Favre to the Packers ...

Illustration by Eddie Guy

1. So Favre builds his legend in Atlanta -- even guesting on an OutKast CD -- which means ...

2. In 2001 the Falcons have no need for a QB, so they don't make a draft-day deal with San Diego, which means with the first pick the Chargers select ...

3. Michael Vick, who leads them to six straight playoff berths and a couple of Super Bowl rings. Meanwhile ...

4. Having moved away from his childhood pals, dogfighting is no temptation. Instead, Vick finds a SoCal pastime: surfing, and ...

5. Under the tutelage of bud Kelly Slater, he hones his shortboard skills, entering ASP World Tour events in the offseason.


Instead of making Bud Selig commissioner in 1992, MLB owners choose another of their ilk: the Rangers' George W. Bush ...

Illustration by Eddie Guy

1. So Al Gore is elected the 43rd president of the U.S. in 2000. Following 9/11, he pursues a path of diplomacy and does not invade Afghanistan. Meanwhile, back in the world of sports ...

2. Cardinals safety Pat Tillman has no reason to join the Army. Instead ...

3. He intercepts Ben Roethlisberger's last-minute pass to Santonio Holmes, and the Cards win Super Bowl XLIII, 23-20. And back on the diamond ...

4. Bush enjoys a successful tenure -- until 2005, when Congress cracks down on steroids in baseball.


In 1993, Monica Seles is not stabbed by an obsessed fan ...

Illustration by Eddie Guy

1. So she remains the dominant player of her era, and ...

2. Steffi Graf, faced with the challenge of her rival's brilliance, has no time for Andre Agassi's romantic advances, which sends ...

3. Agassi into a turbulent affair with Madonna, who therefore never engages in a fling with NBA star Dennis Rodman, who thus keeps his focus on the court, so ...

4. The Spurs don't trade him to Chicago in 1995. Instead ...

5. It is Rodman, David Robinson & Co. who close out the '90s with a string of rings, meaning ...

6. No second three-peat for Jordan, Pippen and the Bulls.


In Week 2 of the 2001 NFL season, Jets linebacker Mo Lewis pulls up on Pats QB Drew Bledsoe as he runs out- of-bounds. Bledsoe isn't hurt, Tom Brady doesn't fill in ...

Illustration by Eddie Guy

1. So the Pats go 9-7, missing the playoffs and ...

2. After four more losing seasons, owner Bob Kraft fires coach Bill Belichick, who shines as defensive coordinator in his second shot with ...

3. The Jets, particularly in the Rex Ryan years, which include a win in Super Bowl XLV. And Brady? ...

4. After a few seasons as a journeyman No. 2, he retires to become a Calvin Klein model. Whenever he's in New York, he dines with friends Alex and Gisele Rodriguez.