Sunday, June 15, 2008
Updated: June 18, 4:15 PM ET
Playing with pain ... and winning
By David Schoenfield
OK, so blood wasn't seeping through his slacks, and Steve Williams didn't apply any atomic balm after the ninth hole, but Tiger Woods' victory in this U.S. Open will go down in the annals of athletes who performed in pain.
(Yes, hockey players everywhere are snickering.)
Here are some athletes who overcame some painful adversities in winning their championships. No, it's not meant to be comprehensive. And no boxers included.
Ben Hogan, 1950 U.S. Open
In February 1949, Hogan was involved in a near-fatal car accident that left him with a double fracture of the pelvis, a broken ankle, a broken collarbone and a smashed rib. Doctors thought he might never walk again. He returned to the golf course 11 months later and won the U.S. Open five months after that, limping around the course in an 18-hole playoff.
Bob Baun, Game 6, 1964 Stanley Cup finals
With 10 minutes left in the game, the Maple Leafs defenseman took a Gordie Howe slap shot off his foot; he was carried away on a stretcher with a broken ankle. A sane person would go to the hospital. A hockey player will take some painkillers and wrap the ankle as tightly as possible. Baun returned to the game in overtime and, miraculously, scored the winning goal. Toronto then beat Detroit 4-0 in Game 7.
Sandy Koufax, Game 7, 1965 World Series
Many pitchers have thrown big games with aching shoulders and throbbing elbows, but the pain Koufax pitched through in 1965 was legendary. It began in spring training when he woke one morning with his left arm black and blue from hemorrhaging. His routine on game days included taking codeine, an anti-inflammatory drug called Butazolidin that was prescribed for thoroughbreds and that eventually was taken off the market in the 1970s for being too toxic, and an ointment players called atomic balm. In Jane Leavy's book "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," she reports outfielder Lou Johnson wore one of Koufax's sweatshirts one cold night and ending up blistering and throwing up from the balm. If others players used it, they watered it down; not Koufax. After games, he soaked his elbow in a bucket of ice. Despite the pain, Koufax pitched 335 innings that season for the Dodgers and started Game 7 of the World Series on two days' rest. He pitched a 2-0 shutout.
Willis Reed, Game 7, 1970 NBA Finals
Not expected to play after missing Game 6 with a pulled muscle, Reed limped onto the Madison Square Garden court to a standing ovation. He made his first two shots of the game (his only points), and his legendy limp overshadowed Walt Frazier, who led the Knicks past the Lakers with one of the great Game 7 performances in history (36 points, 19 assists).
Shun Fujimoto, 1976 Olympics
A hero in Japan, the gymnast had broken his kneecap during the floor exercise but didn't tell his coach about his pain; after all, Japan was battling the Soviet Union for the team gold. Fujimoto scored a 9.5 on the pommel horse and headed to the rings, which required a high-flying dismount. Click here to see what happened.
Kirk Gibson, Game 1, 1988 World Series
"I don't believe
what I just saw."
Emmitt Smith, Cowboys versus Giants, 1994
Jack Youngblood of the Rams played with a broken leg in the 1979 playoffs, and Bronko Nagurksi probably once played with two broken ankles, four broken ribs and a lacerated spleen (confirmation of this unavailable), but Smith's performance in the '94 regular-season finale goes down as clutch and memorable. After separating his shoulder in the first half, Smith stayed in the game and finished with 229 yards rushing as the Cowboys won 13-10 in overtime to lock up a first-round bye for the playoffs.
Kerri Strug, 1996 Olympics
With the U.S. team needing one last solid score in the vault to lock up a gold medal in the team competition, it came down to Strug. She fell on her first vault, injuring her ankle. Although I'm not sure she could walk 18 holes with someone else carrying her clubs, she did do this. U-S-A! U-S-A!
Pete Sampras, 1996 U.S. Open quarterfinals
There's nothing quite like winning in front of 20,000 of your closest friends. And there's definitely nothing like losing your guts in front of 20,000 of your closest friends. In the fifth-set tiebreaker of a grueling, 4-hour, 9-minute, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) victory over Alex Corretja of Spain, Sampras had nowhere to hide when his insides came rushing out (fast-forward to the 4:40 mark if so desired). The umpire even told him to hurry it up. Sampras would go on to defeat Michael Chang in the championship.
Michael Jordan, Game 5, 1997 NBA Finals
Speaking of flulike symptoms
with the series tied 2-2 and Chicago heading to Salt Lake for Game 5, Jordan played despite a stomach virus that had him in bed until three hours before tipoff. Thirty-eight points later, the Bulls won 90-88. Chicago would wrap up the title in Game 6.
Steve Yzerman, 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs
Yzerman led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup while essentially playing on one leg. He scored 23 points in 23 games despite a knee so badly damaged he had reconstructive knee surgery in the offseason that kept him out almost all the next season.
Lance Armstrong, Stage 15, 2003 Tour de France
With six miles left in the stage, Armstrong crashed to the pavement after his handlebars clipped a spectator's bag. Despite a bloodied elbow and bruised shoulder and hip, Armstrong quickly got up and won the stage by 40 seconds, retaining his overall lead and going on to win his fifth of seven consecutive Tours.
Curt Schilling, Game 6, 2004 ALCS
It was not ketchup. Pitching with sutures stitched into his right ankle to hold an injured tendon in place, Schilling allowed one run in seven innings in Boston's 4-2 win over the Yankees. Schilling repeated the procedure for Game 2 of the World Series.
Candace Parker, 2008 NCAA tournament
The Tennessee All-American finished her career in style, leading the Lady Vols to the NCAA title despite playing through the pain of a dislocated shoulder suffered in the regional final. Wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, Parker had 17 points, nine rebounds and four steals in the title game.
David Schoenfield once played a junior high basketball game after ripping open a toenail that soaked his entire sock in blood.