As anyone who has seen The Sandlot surely knows, Babe Ruth-signed balls are the Holy Grail of baseball memorabilia.

Baseball aficionados don't part with them easily, and when they do they can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in return.

So when John Lackey, who was traded to the Cardinals from the Red Sox at the MLB trade deadline, was willing to swap a Bambino-signed ball for a jersey number and nothing else, it was a big deal.

St. Louis reliever Pat Neshek, who owned the No. 41 at the time of Lackey's acquisition by the Cardinals, tweeted this photo Wednesday:


Lackey is one of the more superstitious players in baseball, so perhaps he feels tied to the No. 41. But compared to what other athletes have paid for a number, this is a substantial price. According to some reports, the price of a Ruth-signed ball varies wildly depending on the condition, and those in bad shape could go for as low as $3,000 or $4,000. The ones in good condition, however, have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the most expensive one going for $388,375.

In recent years players have paid $25,000, $50,000 and even forked over a year's supply of diapers for the right to a certain number.

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From Art Modell's founding of the franchise in 1996 to the decision to draft Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, to victories in two Super Bowls the past 15 years, the Baltimore Ravens' short history has been full of highlights. Jamison Hensley has covered much of that history, first as a Baltimore Sun reporter for 11 seasons before moving to ESPN. In this excerpt from his new book Flying High: Stories Of The Baltimore Ravens, Hensley describes how the team got quarterback Joe Flacco even though owner Steve Bisciotti had pushed hard to draft Boston College star Matt Ryan.

Long before winning the Super Bowl in February 2013, the Ravens realized the extent of Joe Cool's calm demeanor at a cold and windy pre-draft workout at the University of Delaware.

Joe Flacco showed up with a bag of footballs and a few of his Delaware receivers. To see how Flacco would react, Ravens officials arrived with brand new NFL balls along with three other collegiate receivers that the team wanted to work out.

Flacco didn't blink. He smiled and asked how they wanted him to start. The throwing conditions were poor. The footballs were slick. Flacco was unfamiliar with the receivers. And only five of 150 passes hit the ground.

The Ravens wanted to confuse Flacco, and instead, they came away with more clarity about the future of the quarterback position.

Team officials walked to their cars in silence. They didn't even look at each other. With just a month left before the draft, the Ravens didn't want to give anyone watching a hint that they were so impressed with Flacco.

"It was there that we all looked at each other and kind of said the same thing: ‘Do you believe what we just saw?'" said Cam Cameron, the Ravens' offensive coordinator at the time.

So, imagine the Ravens' surprise when owner Steve Bisciotti challenged them to draft a different franchise quarterback -- Matt Ryan.

"I told those guys that if they had Matt Ryan listed as the best quarterback in the draft, then I'm willing to give up the whole damn draft for him," Bisciotti said. "I told them there is nothing worse for an owner or for them to be managing a business without a franchise quarterback. I said, ‘I don't care what we have to pay for him to trade up. We're getting Matt Ryan.'"

The Ravens, who were drafting No. 8 in 2008, knew they would have to jump six spots to No. 2 (and ahead of the Atlanta Falcons) to get Ryan. Baltimore called the St. Louis Rams, who had the second overall pick, and they wanted two first-round picks (2008 and 2009) along with the Ravens' picks in the second and third rounds.

Team officials convinced Bisciotti the smarter play was to trade back, acquire more picks, and take Flacco. The Ravens had Ryan rated as the No. 3 player in the entire draft and Flacco at No. 15. There wasn't much separation between the quarterbacks in the Ravens' opinion.

The team's scouts thought Flacco had a lower floor than Ryan, but he had the higher ceiling.

The Ravens dropped from a top-10 pick to near the bottom of the first round, which proved too far down to Bisciotti's liking. He started getting antsy that Flacco wouldn't drop to the Ravens. He didn't want to get stuck with a quarterback like Chad Henne or Brian Brohm, who weren't rated anywhere close to Flacco on the Ravens' board.

Bisciotti wanted the Ravens to trade a third-round pick and move up, but Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel at the time, didn't think the team should do it. DeCosta told Bisciotti that Flacco would be there at No. 26. Bisciotti then looked across the table at DeCosta and told him, "And what if he isn't? What if somebody takes him? Is it going to be worth an extra third-round pick? We have three of them. So, stop being a pick whore. Let's give up a third, and go back and get him, and be done with this."

The Ravens gave up a pick in the third and sixth rounds to Houston in order to go to No. 18 and take Flacco. At the news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome essentially delivered the coronation of Flacco, calling him "the guy to lead our football team into the future."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. questioned the pick, saying Flacco was a second-round talent. The biggest criticism with Flacco was he played in Division I-AA against Towson and New Hampshire instead of national powers like Alabama and Texas.

"I had to go down to the minor leagues of college football to prove who I was," Flacco said. "I'm going to carry that with me for the rest of my life and use it for the best."

Flacco provided a glimpse of the future in his first practice with the Ravens, hitting wide receiver Mark Clayton on target with a pass that soared 50 yards in the air.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who watched 15 quarterbacks start for the Ravens from 1996 to 2007, couldn't hide his excitement.

"We've got ourselves a quarterback," Lewis told a team official.

The Ravens, though, wanted to bring Flacco along slowly. The plan was to sit him for his entire rookie season. The hope was for Troy Smith to win the starting job.

But, by the third game of the preseason, Flacco went from third string to starter after Smith came down with a serious tonsil infection and Kyle Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

"I didn't want to sit," Flacco said. "If you're going to say I'm your guy, then you should play me. I don't see any benefit of sitting and watching."

Flacco won over fans as quickly as he did the Ravens' organization. In his first career start, he surprisingly scored with his feet instead of his arm, running for a 38-yard touchdown in a 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.

In the first half, fans waved purple placards that read, "Wacko 4 Flacco." In the second half, the crowd chanted, "Let's go Flacco," something no other Ravens starting quarterback before him -- from Vinny Testaverde to Troy Smith -- had ever inspired.

"I kind of thought I heard it, but I wasn't really sure. I thought, ‘Why would they be doing that?'" Flacco said with a laugh. "Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time."

-- Excerpted by permission from Flying High: Stories Of The Baltimore Ravens by Jamison Hensley. Copyright (c) 2014 by Jamison Hensley. Published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Jamison Hensley on Twitter @jamisonhensley.

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Hawks guard Kyle Korver was 12 when his family moved from Iowa to California, which forced him to change his fashion.

"I had never worn a pair of jeans before, until I moved to Iowa," Korver said. "Then on my first of school in Iowa, I had to wear jeans because it was so cold. Actually the first day of school got canceled because there was too much snow on the ground. And I was like, 'This happens? This is amazing.' And we got to go sledding all day."

Korver's frigid but fun welcome to Iowa was one of many amusing recollections that USA Basketball players, who are preparing for the FIBA World Cup, had about the first day back in class after summer vacation.

Rudy Gay: "Ninth grade. I actually had a job. I went out and bought my whole first-day outfit. I actually spent my whole savings on it. I saw P. Diddy wear an outfit, and I tried to buy the same thing."

Stephen Curry: "Thinking back to high school, what I used to wear ... Like jean shorts and a striped polo that was probably two sizes too big. I thought I was fly, for sure, but looking back, not at all."

Check out this video for more memories, not all of which center around clothes, from them and others including Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried, Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan:

As it turns out, Curry wasn't exaggerating about his outfit.

If the USA Basketball players were forced to write one of those "how I spent my summer vacation" essays, they would have plenty of material this year. The team had training camp in Las Vegas. Then it went to Chicago for an exhibition against Brazil as well as various appearances as part of the World Basketball Festival presented by Nike and Jordan Brand. And now it will head to Spain for the World Cup.

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As NBA executives, players and fans await the decision of free agent LeBron James, one name has been appearing quite often in connection with the four-time MVP.

James' agent, Rich Paul, has been working feverishly behind the scenes for years in preparation for this summer. Paul, a Cleveland native, is reportedly the one who is leading the Cavaliers to believe they have a chance to sign James, and according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "everyone's at the mercy of Paul's agenda now."

So, just who is Rich Paul?

A friend of James since his high school days, Paul's role in Team LeBron has evolved from helping to plan parties to running James' free agency. He is part of James' famously close inner circle and he has been working with James since he was drafted.

Perhaps the most amazing part of their relationship is that James and Paul met by chance some 12 years ago at the Akron-Canton Airport. James, then 17 years old and on his way to the 2002 Final Four in Atlanta, sported a Michael Vick jersey for the trip. At the airport he noticed a man wearing an authentic Warren Moon throwback jersey along with white Air Force 1's. James was impressed.

James asked the man where he got the jersey and Paul, then 21, replied that he sold throwback jerseys out of the trunk of his car. The two exchanged contact information, and soon Paul hooked James up with a Magic Johnson Lakers jersey and a Joe Namath Rams uniform.

"If I don't have on that jersey, we don't have a conversation," Paul told Chris Broussard for a 2012 feature in ESPN The Magazine.

James and Paul grew close and bonded over their many similarities. Broussard describes the relationship in his article:

Both had mothers who struggled with the perils of urban life while raising their sons. Both grew up in the 'hood but attended mostly white Catholic high schools to play basketball. Both recognized the importance of doing well in school. "We used to say, There's nothing cool about being a dummy," Paul recalls.

Over the years Paul's role has evolved from planning parties and events to helping guide James' marketing strategy to taking over as his agent. Paul has even acted alongside James in a State Farm commercial. Here he is pretending he doesn't like Kid 'n Play:

Paul, who never graduated from college, started Klutch Sports Group in 2012 and represents Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker and Tristan Thompson in addition to James.

Now, as James prepares to make a decision that will define the NBA for decades to come, Paul is right beside him. He's met with five teams already and will sit down with James and Pat Riley this week.

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1989 was a season of both triumph and tragedy for the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, still marking baseball’s only cross-Bay series. But 1989 is remembered as much for the devastating earthquake that struck moments before Game 3 of the World Series as it is for the exploits of Mark McGwire, Will Clark, and other stars. In this history, Gary Peterson combines his firsthand observations with meticulous research and new interviews with players, coaches, and broadcasters to offer a fresh perspective of that unforgettable year. Here is an excerpt from Battle of the Bay.

It began as a subtle vibration -- not unlike those caused by commercial airliners as they would pass over Candlestick Park on their ascent from nearby San Francisco International Airport. And briefly -- for less time than it takes to articulate that thought -- that's what I figured it was: an airplane. My second thought was one I’d had on many occasions over the years: This would be a really crummy time for an earthquake.

It wasn't an idle thought. My senior project for U.S. history, my final assignment as a high school student, was a term paper on earthquakes. I learned about P waves and S waves. I learned about the Richter scale, on which every point represents a magnitude order of 10. In other words a 2.0 earthquake isn't twice as powerful as a 1.0 earthquake; it’s 10 times as strong. I learned that the next devastating earthquake to ravage the Bay Area was a question of when -- not if. And most frighteningly, I learned that no matter what the building code or what we had learned about engineering over the years, there was nothing man could construct that a sufficiently powerful earthquake couldn't wreck.

My fondest dream was realized when after high school and four years of college, I was hired as a sportswriter by the Valley Times of Pleasanton, California, a part of the Contra Costa Times group. Soon, much sooner than I deserved, I was given a column that gave me an entrée to the full menu of Bay Area sports -- the Giants, A's, 49ers, Raiders, Warriors, Cal, Stanford. I spent a lot of time crossing the Bay Bridge, where traffic sometimes would come to a grinding halt and I would think to myself, This would be a really crummy time for an earthquake.

The same thought occasionally crossed my mind as I sat in a sold-out stadium or traveled an elevated freeway. Now, just minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the A's and Giants, as the subtle vibration began to morph into a gentle bouncing motion, I realized my greatest fear was coming true. There was no plane passing overhead. And even if there was, it wouldn't cause the arrhythmic jostling that was beginning to pitch me back and forth, side to side. This was an earthquake, alright. I had experienced earthquakes before. But this one seemed more insistent and more intense. I was seated in the dreaded auxiliary press box, where they put overflow media at big sporting events (in this case Section 1 in the upper deck at Candlestick Park). I began to bounce up and down.

No, seriously: This would be a really crummy time for an earthquake.

The bouncing intensified. We were beginning to rock and roll. I looked at the football press box, tucked under the canopy of the upper deck on the third-base side of the stadium. I had watched dozens of 49ers games from inside those Spartan quarters. Now its plate glass windows flexed in and out, reflecting funhouse mirror images as they moved. Beginning to panic just a little, I looked out at the second deck beyond center field. We were bouncing to such an extent that it seemed inconceivable that Candlestick Park, the most maligned stadium in sports, could stand the strain. Which part of the inelegant cement bowl would fail first? The light towers swayed like tall stalks of corn. Something had to give. But what? And when? The shaking and jolting went on for what seemed like minutes. And then it stopped.

A half beat later, the crowd let loose with a hearty cheer. Candlestick Park had taken Mother Nature's kick to the gut and was still standing. But I was consumed with dread. With earthquakes you can never be sure. Was what you felt a relatively small quake that seemed bigger than it was because it was epicentered just below your feet? Or was it a powerful event that traveled miles to reach you? I wasn't sure. But I was unsettled.

Within minutes, power was out at the stadium. I was armed with a Sony Watchman, a hand-held TV with a screen about half the size of today's smart phones. I had fresh batteries. I turned it on. It took what seemed like forever to locate a signal from one of the local TV stations. When I finally found one, the magnitude of the devastation was beyond what I had imagined. There were no cars in the water beneath the Bay Bridge as had been rumored almost instantly after the shaking stopped. But the bridge was impassable.

It would be long, slow minutes before we found out about the fires in San Francisco's Marina District and the collapse of the Cypress Structure Freeway in Oakland. But even before the official announcement, I was certain of one thing: there would be no baseball that day. It didn’t take a genius to figure that out. There was no power at the stadium and a collapsed double-deck freeway just a few miles from where a World Series game was supposed to have been contested. Death. Destruction. The need for police and firefighting resources elsewhere around San Francisco. Clearly, the stadium would need to be inspected.

I began packing my briefcase.

"What are you doing?” asked a colleague.

“They aren’t going to play this game,” I told him. I made for the nearest ramp to the lower deck. I needed to get out of the stadium and circle around to the players’ parking lot where my press credential would allow me access. I knew I would be expected to file a story -- game or no game. The line leading out of the stadium moved slowly. As we shuffled down the ramps, some opportunists were already offering to buy ticket stubs for souvenirs. Occasionally you could feel the slight jostle of another quake.

This would be a really crummy time for a serious aftershock.

I finally made my way to the players' parking lot and began conducting interviews. I'd be lying if I said my heart was in it. The sun was beginning to set. The parking lot looked like an oil painting with thousands of cars sitting motionless with their taillights glowing.

I hooked up with two other colleagues. We needed a place to write. But where? We weren't keen on reentering the stadium and climbing back up to a blacked-out Section 1. We would learn later that some out-of-town reporters wrote their stories in the parking lot by the light of a rental car’s headlights -- a semicircle of scribes in a race to finish their stories before the car battery went dead.

I had a better idea. For years Major League Baseball has provided media and assorted VIPs a pregame brunch and postgame buffet at playoff games. They're nicely done. But the postgame buffets don’t account for the hour or two newspaper reporters need to finish and file their stories. This was the third consecutive year I had covered the postseason. I had become accustomed to arriving at the postgame buffet just in time to see the last food table being wheeled out of the room. I didn't even bother bringing my postgame buffet tickets to Candlestick Park for Game 3 of the World Series. I surely would never use them, and my briefcase was cluttered enough as it was.

There would be no Game 3. But the huge tent erected in the Candlestick Park parking lot to host the brunch and buffet might be open, with its generator, tables, and chairs, maybe even food and drink. I suggested to my two colleagues that we head in that direction. I was right. The tent blazed, an oasis of light. Peering inside, we saw plenty of available tables and chairs. We approached the entrance. "Can I see your tickets?” a security guard asked us. My colleagues produced theirs. I informed the guard that I didn’t have my ticket.

"Then you can't come in," he said. I was dumbfounded. "We’re not here for a party," I said, not altogether pleasantly. “We’re here to work."

"Sorry," he said.

At that moment, one of my colleagues recognized Connie Lurie, wife of Giants owner Bob Lurie, inside the tent. He called to her. She came over, and we explained our situation. “You let these gentlemen inside," she told the security guy. He did. Mrs. Lurie showed us to a table as if seating us at one of San Francisco's finest restaurants. She brought us something to drink. She brought us food and apologized because it was cold. "We have no way to warm it,” she said. "We were planning a postgame party, but now we’ll have a post-earthquake party." I knew there were horrific scenes playing out all over the Bay Area. At that moment I felt comforted by her simple act of kindness.

We wrote our stories and then had to solve another problem. The tent had no telephones. This was before air cards and wireless Internet access. The Internet itself was in its embryonic stage. We had Radio Shack TRS-80 word processors -- covered wagons compared to the powerful laptops we use today. We needed an actual phone to transmit. And we knew there was only one place to find one: inside Candlestick Park.

It was dark by then. We left the safety of the tent and walked halfway around the outside of the stadium and up an incline so treacherously steep that it was known as Heartbreak Hill in memory of the Candlestick Park patrons who had succumbed to cardiac arrest trying to climb it. Finally, we reached the same open gate I had exited a few hours earlier. There was no one to stop us, so we reluctantly crept back into the murky darkness.

The pay phone banks in that part of the lower-deck concourse -- essentially behind where home plate would be -- were inside big cutouts in the stadium's cement wall. It was pitch black inside those alcoves. This wasn't going to be easy. Here’s what transmitting a story entailed: I had to dial a prefix, then the 10-digit number of the computer at our Walnut Creek office. At the tone I had to dial a 16-digit calling card number to pay for the long-distance call. When I heard the familiar squealing tone, I had to place the phone's handpieces into my word processor's acoustical couplers (they looked like rubber suction cups), making sure the earpiece went into the coupler specific to the earpiece and the mouthpiece into the coupler specific to the mouthpiece.

The TRS-80 (we called them “Trash 80s”) had a row of function buttons below the display screen. I had to find and push F4, then F3. Then I had to type the name of the document I wished to transmit and hit enter. It didn't transmit at the speed of light. Not being able to see the screen, I had no idea when the transmission was complete. I gave it plenty of time just to be on the safe side. Then I had to call the office -- prefix, 10-digit number, tone, 16-digit number—to make sure the story had arrived intact. I don't recall how many tries it took me to successfully transmit and verify. More than one would be a safe guess. I do recall that every second inside that black hole was agony.

Eventually, we all filed our stories. Then there was the small matter of how to get home. With the Bay Bridge closed, the quickest way was over the San Mateo Bridge to the south of Candlestick Park. Before reaching the bridge, we heard a radio report that it had been inspected and cleared for traffic. To get on the bridge required driving on a long flyover, a high, elevated connector. I almost couldn't bring myself to do it.

It's difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't been through an earthquake. For a time afterward, sometimes days, you simply don't trust the ground. You can't be sure if it's done shaking or if the worst is over. You just don't know. It seemed as if we were on the flyover for hours. It was a relief to get on the bridge and an even bigger relief to get to the other side. Not long after getting off the bridge, we heard a radio report that it had been closed again for further inspection. Eventually, we made it back to the office. There wasn't much visible damage in the East Bay. I found a few items toppled over at my house when I got home. That was comforting. But anxiety continued to plague me. I simply couldn't settle down. I turned on the news and watched as much of the nonstop earthquake coverage as I could stand. The images conveyed a sense of hell on Earth. It seemed as if things would never be the same again.

I tried to sleep but couldn't. I got up and turned on the TV again for as long as I could stand it. I tried to sleep, again unsuccessfully. The next day on very little sleep, I went into the office. I knew I would be expected to write a column. And I knew just what to write: "As far as I'm concerned, the World Series is over."

-- Excerpted by permission from Battle of the Bay by Gary Peterson. Copyright (c) 2014 by Gary Peterson. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Gary Peterson on Twitter @garyscribe.

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In a powerful indication of just how impactful the World Cup can be, new data show that the number of boys named "Diego" skyrocketed during Argentina's run to the 1986 World Cup crown.

The Albiceleste were, of course, led by the eccentric superstar Diego Maradona during the tournament in Mexico. Maradona willed his side to the trophy with a selection of performances that drove his soccer-mad country into hysterics. Perhaps the two most memorable -- the "Hand of God" goal and the "Goal of the Century" -- helped push Argentina past England and into the semifinals.

Adrien Friggeri of Facebook dove into some data and discovered that during the World Cup the number of baby boys born in Argentina named "Diego" rose tremendously.

In the 18 months before and after the World Cup, the odds of a boy being named "Diego" were around 1 or 1.5 percent. During the week of the final, about 5.5 percent of boys born were named "Diego."

Check out the crazy jump in this graph (via Facebook):

Pretty exceptional data here. It attests not only to the passion with which people in Argentina watch soccer but also to the weight of the World Cup. Perhaps studies in 28 years will show that this year's tournament prompted a new generation of parents in Argentina to name their boys "Lionel."

In case you don't remember Maradona's two goals against England, you can relive them here:

(H/T to For The Win)

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Nearly 20 years after holding the most famous sign in sports history, Steve Zaretsky is watching another Rangers playoff game. He is at Rutt's Hut in Clifton, a classic New Jersey joint whose deep-fried hot dogs have been featured on The Food Network. The Rangers are en route to the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday in Los Angeles, and that has local fans feeling the Spirit of '94 again. That means reliving the magic moment when the Rangers beat the Canucks 3-2 in Game 7 and silenced the echoes of "1940!" And Steve Zaretsky celebrated with the words that will live in franchise lore forever:

NOW I CAN DIE IN PEACE

The sign was cited in Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and many more newspapers and magazines. Six words perfectly captured 54 years of championship frustration. So when Steve spots a fellow Rangers fan at Rutt's, it is only natural that the sign will come up in the conversation.

"He was wearing a Ranger hat, and we went over to give him a high five," Steve says. "We start talking about '94 and everything, and the sign. And then he says, 'The guy who held up the sign? That was my dad.'"

This came as news to Zaretsky. It was a family affair, as Steve held the sign with his dad, Dave, while twin brother Michael and his cousin Gary Morris were next to them.

Sure, all Rangers fans want to feel like they hold a piece of the 1994 Cup in their hearts, but the fan at Rutt's was really stretching. Or really enjoying his beer. Steve pulled out his phone for evidence to set the record straight.

"I showed him the picture and he says, 'Well, maybe it wasn't my dad,'" Steve says.

Steve's dad, Dave, has been a season-ticket holder since 1972. He started with two seats, then added two more in Section 72 to accommodate his boys. Over the years, they made some connections at the Garden, and when the Rangers finally won the Cup, the Zaretsky family was invited to the locker room. They got to see Mike Richter and Alexei Kovalev before the scene got too chaotic and too sweaty.

But in the process, they lost the sign.

***

The sign was actually a sequel. When the Rangers went down in the 1992 playoffs against the Penguins, Mike Zaretsky held a sign that earned some press coverage:

Just once before we die … PLEASE!"

After the Rangers beat the Devils in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final, Steve was kicking around ideas for a new sign. He was working at Wizard Press, a comic book publishing company, at the time, and his friend and coworker, Dan Riley, helped him out.

"There's only one thing that could fit and tell everybody how long we've been waiting: Now I can die in peace,'" Steve says.

He brought the sign to the Garden for Game 5, but Pavel Bure scored twice to help the Canucks stay alive with a 6-3 win. The series shifted back to Vancouver for Game 6. Steve brought the sign to a viewing party at the Garden where fans watched the Rangers lose 4-1 on the JumboTron.

Then it was June 14, 1994. Game 7. Craig MacTavish took one final defensive-zone faceoff against Bure, and the party was on. Steve, wearing a Rangers sweater, held one end of the sign. Dave, in a yellow shirt, held the other end. Mike is bent over in front of the sign. Cousin Gary is behind Steve, ready to unfold another sign that said, "No more 1940" with a circle and an X through it, which, Steve says, was shown on ESPN.

"You'll notice we're the only ones in the stands with the Stanley Cup champion hats," Steve said. "They weren't on sale yet, but my brother paid one of the vendors with a minute to go in the game. The lady said, 'We don't even know if they won the game yet.'"

Nick Kypreos carried the Cup in front of them, as immortalized in the photo. Steve also remembers Adam Graves and Glenn Healy skating past their section and acknowledging them. Shortly after that, the Zaretsky crew headed to the ice, and then came the invite to the locker room.

"You know the removable seats they use for the Knick games?" Steve says. "There was a whole stack of them outside the locker room. The stack was pretty high, probably seven or eight feet, so I stashed the sign on top of the them, because we wanted to go in the locker room and my brother said, 'Leave it.' When I came out, it was gone. I don't think anybody took it. I think they were just cleaning up and threw it away."

Steve ended up with a nice consolation prize. Richter had left his water bottle on top of the net, and Steve grabbed it. But he says he remembers making a special point after he left the locker room to look for the sign.

"I felt like something was going to come of it," he says.

He was right. The Hockey Hall of Fame called a few weeks later. But the sign was gone, perhaps adding to the mystique of the moment.

***

In the aftermath, a T-shirt company decided to use the phrase in the sign. Steve wanted to sue, but the laws made it tough to copyright a common phrase. Steve decided to cut his losses by requesting compensation in the form of the shirts. After that, his lawyer discovered a loophole that might give them a chance to win in court, but the response from the T-shirt company's legal department was, "Sorry, your client settled for six dozen shirts."

"When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, some guy wrote a book called 'Now I Can Die In Peace,'" Steve says, alluding to Bill Simmons. "Now if you Google it, his book shows up first."

Madison Square Garden created an homage outside the arena to its greatest moments, and the sign earned a nice mention.

Steve and Mike, who grew up in Tappan, New York, and now live in Jersey, are 46. Dave is 72. They all work together in the folding carton manufacturing business (cereal boxes and the like). They are still fixtures at the Garden.

"Our seats are pretty much the same," Steve says. "We were more toward the goal line in the corner in '94. Now we're closer to the blue line. Fifth row. We were in the third row in those seats. Now I have two kids, and my brother has two kids, and we have to think of something for a sign. You know everybody is going to copy 'Now I Can Die In Peace.' Like 'Now I Can Die In Peace Again.'"

The story of the sign was included in a recent documentary about the 1994 Rangers. Because of that, more Rangers fans are starting to recognize the Zaretskys.

Steve has set up a website, NowICanDieInPeace.com, which simply displays the photo. It comes in handy when he encounters anyone who might doubt or challenge his claim to fame.

"When I mention we were the ones with the sign, a lot of people go, 'yeah, right,'" Steve says.

If his sons, Ethan, 12, and Adam, 10, are with him when that happens, they are eager to jump in. They are the ones who can actually say what the fan at Rutt's said and have it be true.

"That's when my kids are like, 'Show him picture, dad," Steve says.

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When Football Went To War offers stories of wartime heroism, from World War I through to Pat Tillman's tragic death in the Global War on Terrorism. Football has become the most popular sport in America and this heartfelt book honors the many sacrifices of NFL athletes over the years in service of their country. As we celebrate Memorial Day to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, here is the story of Don Steinbrunner, a tackle for Washington State and the Cleveland Browns, who was shot down in Vietnam.

For many years, it was thought that Bob Kalsu had been the only NFL player since World War II to have been killed in action while serving in the U.S. armed forces. Major Don Steinbrunner's name is on the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, at panel 23E line 096. He was killed in action in Vietnam when he was shot down over Kontum. He played in eight games for the 1953 Cleveland Browns; the 11–1 Browns, under Coach Paul Brown, finished in first place in the NFL East but lost 17–16 to the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship Game. A graduate of Washington State, Steinbrunner had been a sixth-round draft pick in the 1953 NFL Draft.

Steinbrunner was selected All-State out of Mount Baker High School, and he became the captain on Washington State's basketball and football teams where he earned All-Conference honors after his junior year. He'd enrolled in the ROTC program while in college and was summoned to active service after his 1953 rookie year with the Browns.

It was a two-year commitment, and Steinbrunner served as a navigator in the United States Air Force. When his tour of duty was completed he contemplated returning to the Browns, but he found service in the Air Force rewarding so he re-upped.

"Coach Paul Brown kept him signed while he was doing his commitment," Steinbrunner's son, David, said. "Coach Brown liked Dad and wanted him to come back to the team, but Dad really enjoyed the military. I think he wanted to get into coaching."

Steinbrunner remained with the Air Force, and in 1961 he joined the football coaching staff at the Air Force Academy, working as an assistant coach.

He was still serving at the Academy when the Vietnam War broke out, and in 1966 he was sent there. His wife, Meredyth, said, "He loved his children very deeply and had some reservations about leaving them behind. But he also felt very strongly about going to Vietnam. He was going there to defend his country. At the time, communism was considered a great threat to the world. Don said it was his duty to go, and he wanted to go. He believed strongly in the cause."

As the Pro Football Hall of Fame has noted, "Not long after his arrival, he was shot in the knee during an aerial mission and was offered an opportunity to accept a less dangerous assignment. He declined. According to his family, the 35-year-old Steinbrunner reasoned that he was better suited to serve his country than many of the younger, less seasoned soldiers he'd observed. It was a decision that cost him his life. On July 20, 1967, Steinbrunner's plane was shot down over Kontum, South Vietnam."

Major Steinbrunner was the navigator aboard a C-123 from the 12thCommando Squadron, conducting a defoliation mission near Gia Vuc, about 30 miles southwest of Quang Ngai. There had been suspected light ground fire in the area, but as the aircraft made its run -- at just 150; -- it was "hit by a hail of small arms fire, crashed, and burned." All five crewmen were killed. In addition to Steinbrunner, the other losses were: Major Allan J. Stearns, Girard, Pennsylvania, pilot; Lt. Col. Everett E. Foster, Beacon, New York, copilot; SSgt. Irvin G. Weyandt, Claysburg, Pennsylvania, loadmaster; and Sgt. Le Tan Bo, RVN Air Force, observer.

A forward air controller reportedly saw the crash near Pleiku Air Base.

Steinbrunner "was scheduled to return to the states in December and was looking forward to a return to coaching duty at the Air Force Academy, where he spent five years as an assistant coach and recruiter."

Steinbrunner was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read in part, "Disregarding the hazards of flying the difficult target terrain and the opposition presented by hostile ground forces, he led the formation through one attack and returned to make a second attack. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Major Steinbrunner reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force."

It was 30 years after his death that Steinbrunner was honored again and recognized at Canton. After seeing the 2001 Sports Illustrated article on Bob Kalsu, which said Kalsu was the "only pro athlete killed in Vietnam," Steinbrunner's daughter, Diane, contacted the Pro Football Hall of Fame to inform them of her own father's service. The Hall immediately made arrangements to invite the Steinbrunner family to its inaugural Veterans Day ceremony that very year. It is now an annual ceremony. Diane's brother, David, said of the Hall of Fame, "They were just wonderful. We took Dad's old Browns jacket and Purple Heart, and it is on display now."

In addition to children Diane and David, Steinbrunner was also survived by his wife, Meredyth, and daughter, Wendy.

-- Excerpted by permission from When Football Went To War by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin. Copyright (c) 2013 by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

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Students at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, with support from the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, are putting together a current version of the 1973 and 1995 editions of the book "No Cheering in the Press Box" by Jerome Holtzman. The premise is to profile great sports journalists by allowing them to tell their own stories. Here is a chapter from "Still No Cheering In The Press Box" that examines the late Jim Murray, whose style and wit helped him earn a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990.

This chapter would have been far too long for Jim Murray's taste. It was not written on deadline from a press box or a newsroom. It is not based on in-person interviews and observations. It is filled with quotes and devoid of humor. Worst of all, the ever-modest Murray would have thought, it’s all about him. About his breezy writing style and biting commentary. About his path from an anonymous cops writer at a mid-sized daily to a nationally-syndicated, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist whose celebrity often trumped the athletes and coaches he covered.

How do you write a tribute to a sportswriter of Murray's stature without imagining him sitting next to you – with those thick black glasses and his Remington typewriter -- dispensing advice? "What Would Murray Do?” is an enticing question, but this chapter makes no attempt to match his trademark brevity and wit. Except for just this once, with a succinct skewering of Murray's hometown that takes far less than a page from his playbook.

Hartford, Conn., has a new marketing slogan, "Hartford has it." Anyone who's spent time there knows what "it" stands for -- a quick ticket out of town (two hours to Boston, two to New York).

Heaven only knows if Murray would endorse the punch line, though he did once write that, "Growing up in Hartford gave you a split personality. You were midway between Boston and New York, geographically and emotionally."[1]

It's only fitting to introduce Murray the same way he introduced himself to millions of readers across the country through his column -- with a good-natured takedown of a U.S. town. He saw plenty of them on grueling road trips as a correspondent for Sports Illustrated and a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. He interviewed plenty of Hollywood stars as a reporter for Time and Life. The legend of Murray could begin in the Lakers' locker room or the Dodgers' dugout, or in a Sunset Strip restaurant with Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, or with a review of Murray's best one-liners, analogies and anecdotes. But let's start where Murray began, in a sleepy Connecticut newsroom as a cub reporter ready to launch a career that would span a half-century.

Covering Crime and Celebs on the Coasts

As a general assignment and police reporter at the New Haven Register, Murray wrote crime briefs and headlines, covered fires and murders and reviewed movies appearing in local theaters.[2] He didn't set out to be a journalist. At Hartford's Trinity College, he wrote television pilots, screenplays and musicals.[3] "I was going to be Eugene O'Neill. Hemingway. Hell, Tolstoy," Murray wrote in his autobiography. “I was going to stand Broadway, Hollywood, or The Old Vic on their ear."[4] Instead, he wrote nonfiction for the Register.

Murray stayed less than a year in New Haven. He moved to Los Angeles in 1944 as “the greenest of greenhorns,"[5] with no job but a collection of editors’ names.[6] James H. Richardson, a gruff city editor at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, grilled Murray on his qualifications for a reporting job, producing this memorable exchange:

"Do you know where City Hall is?" Richardson asked.

"No," Murray said.

"Do you know where the FBI is?"

"No."

"Do you even know where Figueroa Street is, for cryin' out loud?"

"No, sir."

"Well, can you write?"

"Oh, Mr. Richardson, I can write like a son of a bitch."[7]

Murray was hired on the spot as a general assignment reporter and later became a rewrite man. The William Randolph Hearst-owned Examiner covered the typical sensational tabloid stories -- murders, suicides, scandals, trials and Hollywood gossip. It was a far cry from the garden-variety crime, disaster and entertainment stories he had written in Connecticut. As Murray wrote in his autobiography,

Los Angeles was a wildly exciting place when I first went to work for the Examiner in 1944. The shipyards were humming at the harbor, there were troop movements going to every point of the compass, there were so many murders the city was running neck and neck with the South Pacific ... There was seldom a dull moment. And if there were, the front page of the Examiner never admitted it.[8]

Reporters on the city desk "slept with our socks on like firemen" [9] waiting for the next big story. Murray wrote fondly about his Examiner days, calling them "among my happiest journalistic years." [10] In a career move driven largely by money, [11] Murray accepted a position in 1948 as Hollywood correspondent for Henry Luce's Time Magazine. Going from the Examiner to Time was, as Murray wrote, “going from a honky-tonk to Park Avenue.”[12] For the national magazine he covered the movie business and its biggest stars, writing about the personal and professional lives of John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Marlon Brando and Humphrey Bogart. Among his duties was selecting up-and-coming female movie stars – “longed-for love goddesses," [13] as Murray called them – to feature on the magazine's cover. One such starlet was Marilyn Monroe, whom Murray described as "five feet six inches of whipped cream."[14]

Murray lived among and regularly dined with movie stars, but even he could be star struck. During a meal with Monroe on Sunset Strip in Hollywood, the actress famously asked him, “Do you mind if you don't take me home but I go home with a friend of mine?”

Said Murray, "Only if you introduce me to Joe DiMaggio first." Monroe waved over the Yankees slugger.[15] Having already mastered the Examiner’s brand of purple prose, Murray adopted Time’s “staccato” style for his features. “I think my years at Time solidified whatever style I came to use and be known for,” he wrote in his autobiography.[16] Covering celebrities also prepared Murray for the next stage of his career.

"When he moved to sports he already kind of had those interpersonal skills," said Ted Geltner, Murray's biographer.

Switching to Sports

Just as Murray never set out to be a journalist, he never planned on writing about sports. Sure, he had grown up going to pool halls and boxing matches with his gambling uncle. He had briefly played baseball in college and witnessed Babe Ruth hit one of his final home runs at Yankee Stadium.

"I took away from my childhood that love of sports and never lost it," Murray wrote.[17] In his early days in Los Angeles, while he never wrote about sports, he was a staple at sporting events. [18] But Murray seemed content keeping sports as a pastime while he covered Hollywood, Los Angeles culture and, on occasion, national politics.

It wasn't until 1950 that he wrote his first bylined sports story, a takedown of the New York Yankees in Life that elicited a chorus of cheers and jeers from readers. "I Hate the Yankees” made an argument that would be echoed for generations to come: the franchise’s baseball dominance is a product of its free-spending ways -- its “economic hegemony," in Murray's own words.[19] Given his knowledge of sports, a rarity among reporters at Time and Life, he was assigned a series of sports features. “Henry Luce, of all people, made me a sportswriter," Murray wrote.[20]

When Luce had an idea for a national sports magazine, he turned to Murray, who helped found Sports Illustrated in 1953. He was a frequent contributor to SI, even as he continued covering Los Angeles for Time and Life. Murray often wrote about boxing, horse racing, baseball and football from a fan’s perspective, using humor and first-person narrative to connect with readers.

As the 1960s began, Murray faced a major career decision: move to New York and accept a promotion as a top Sports Illustrated editor or stay in Los Angeles as a sports writer. [21] Frank McCulloch, a former colleague of Murray’s at Time who moved to the Los Angeles Times, convinced the newspaper’s publisher, Otis Chandler, to offer Murray a plum sports columnist position.[22] After days of deliberation, he accepted. “It was daring,” Murray wrote.[23] "I became, God help me, a columnist."

A Must-Read Column, Six Days a Week

"The trouble with writing a column is it's like running a railroad," Murray wrote. "You have to keep the stock rolling. You can never step back and admire or even take stock of what you've done. Because you’re on to the next one."[24]

Six days a week, Murray filled the Los Angeles Times sports page with stories from ballparks, stadiums, arenas, golf courses and race tracks. Golf and horse racing were two of his favorites. He loved baseball -- "I've never been unhappy in the baseball park in my life,” Murray wrote–and didn’t understand complaints about the game taking too long.[25] He called basketball players “quite possibly the finest athletes of all.”[26]

His views on football were strikingly prescient. In 1965, Murray called the sport "the most American game of them all,” with greedy owners and obsessive, dictatorial coaches.[27] He noted the hypocrisy of college football recruitment and the dangers facing athletes: “It is a tooth-loosener, concussion-causer, limp producer,” he wrote. Broadcasters should warn viewers, "For adults only."[28]

Murray covered Super Bowls and World Series and Final Fours much like any big-city columnist. But he also wrote about smaller events like Little League baseball games, with their inevitable bloopers, rotten umpires and overheated parents. "I have seen infield-fly-rule arguments that I thought were going all the way to the Supreme Court–or the United Nations,” he once wrote.[29] Murray had a magic touch with what his editors called "little sports" -- the ones that people would rather play than watch. Pool. Beach volleyball. Surfing. Judo. Whale watching. Coyote-calling. The sports, Murray wrote, that made people happy.[30]

His columns also made people think. Dave Kindred, a longtime sports columnist and friend of Murray's, said Murray viewed the column as a pulpit. He championed racial integration in baseball and golf, and wrote about violence in sports and society.

"He was an observer of life through the prism of sports," said Roy Firestone, a prominent sports broadcaster and friend of Murray’s. “He could do funny. He could do poignant. He could do inspiring."

Murray sat in the press box and went to the post-game press conference along with his fellow scribes. But he rarely wrote game analysis and commentary. He preferred to focus on what happened out of public view, in locker rooms and owners’ boxes, and share the anecdotes that defined a game.

He found the humorous moment of the event, and made that the column instead of the event," Kindred said. “When something strange, funny or bizarre happened, everyone had their own 'what would Jim write' moment."

Readers can get game information from the box score and (in later years) the highlights from ESPN, as Murray used to say. "You have to give readers human interest,” he told his second wife, Linda Murray Hofmans. "Something that nobody else can do.”

Instead of writing about a baseball game, he wrote about his recommendations for pre-game contests: Ditch the wheelbarrow racing and egg tossing for switch-hitting Scotch drinking, freestyle money-counting and girl chasing.[31]

"He was pursuing more of the feel of the event, the humanity of the event and the fun of the event,” Kindred said. “He was a reporter who understood that sports was a diversion. Sports wasn’t real life."

Murray once wrote about his job: "I covered the circus."[32]

He also channeled both Luce and Hearst with his philosophy that "people read to be amused, shocked, titillated and angered."[33] He yearned to make people laugh.

"He just had a feel for making the sports pages entertaining," said T.J. Simers, a former colleague of Murray’s at the Los Angeles Times. "I think that goes back to his Hollywood days,” added Kindred. "Humphrey Bogart was entertainment. Tommy Lasorda was entertainment -- just of a different kind."

Murray had a flair for explaining the essence of sports figures in one or two phrases. Lasorda always sounded as if a building was on fire. Casey Stengel was “the only man in the world who has his own language, two banks, a golf course, a blue serge suit, and non-stop speech." [34]

They were, Murray wrote, the two people he could always count on when he ran out of ideas and needed a column. Jerry West was a bundle of energy. Wilt Chamberlain was a gentle giant. He described Sandy Koufax as soft-spoken and Wilt Chamberlain as modest. Sonny Liston was ruthless. Muhammad Ali was both arrogant and reflective. "He had a great gift for writing about these larger-than-life people, and that’s something you want to read about,” Simers said.

Murray didn't deify athletes. His columns described them in mundane moments, playing cards in their hotel room and drinking whisky in bars with sportswriters. “A Trip for Tall Men,” Murray's final article for Sports Illustrated, chronicled several weeks traveling with the "extraordinary characters" [35] on the Lakers. Life on the road was a frequent topic of Murray’s columns. He wrote sarcastically about having to wake up at noon and miss The Price is Right.

It was a rainy day in Cincinnati during Murray's first year with the Times that he found a column topic that would make him a household name.

Skewering Cities Across the Country

It had been an unremarkable road trip through the heartland. Murray traveled with the Dodgers as they lost 10 straight games on their way to missing the playoffs in 1961.[36] On the day of a rainout, with seemingly nothing to write about for the next day's paper, Murray turned to his surroundings. When he looked out his hotel room, he noticed Cincinnati's aging highways and decrepit buildings. They were the topic of a sardonic column that had little to do with sports.

"(People) don't have any appreciation for what us truth-seekers go through on a road trip for the honor and glory of baseball. For instance, you come into a city like Cincinnati at 3 o'clock in the morning. Now, if you have any sense, you don't want to be in Cincinnati at all. Even in daylight, it doesn't look like a city. It looks like it's in the midst of condemnation proceedings. If it was a human, they'd bury it."[37]

Murray made these acerbic passages a regular feature of his columns. He had found his voice. Though he had not planned to be a columnist known for civic criticism, he embraced his new role. His brand of biting commentary raised his national profile and was a major reason newspapers across the country began carrying his column.

"When he got the idea and started doing those columns where he wrote about cities, I think that's where it clicked in his mind that he could do this,” Geltner said. "I really thought that was an important part of his career because in the early '60s there were so many newspapers and dozens and dozens of columnists, and he was just another one until he started doing that."

Among his most memorable lines:

"The only trouble with Spokane, Washington, as a city is that there's nothing to do after 10 o’clock. In the morning. But it’s a nice place to go for breakfast."[38]

"[St. Louis] had a bond issue recently and the local papers campaigned for it on a slogan, 'Progress or Decay,' and decay won in a landslide."

"Minneapolis and St. Paul don't like each other very much and from what I could see I don't blame either of them."

He called Louisville “Lousyville.” Pittsburgh was "America's Slag Heap."

Philadelphia was a town that would “boo a cancer cure." Murray also took shots at cities closer to home:

Oakland is this kind of town: You have to pay 50 cents to go from Oakland to San Francisco. Coming to Oakland from San Francisco is free."

"Palm Springs is an inland sandbar man has wrestled from the rodents and the Indians to provide a day camp for the over-privileged adults."

On his adopted hometown, Los Angeles:

"It's a place that has a dry river but 100,000 swimming pools. It’s a place where you get 100 days for murder but six months for whipping your dog."

Reaction from cities was mixed. Cincinnati fans protested Murray during the 1961 World Series with signs that mentioned him by name.[39] In his state of the state address, Iowa's governor rebuffed Murray’s comments that Iowans came to Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl “in the family Winnebago with their pacemakers and the chicken salad." Yet some cities longed for attention. A delegation of citizens once greeted Murray upon his arrival in their city and begged him repeatedly to "Knock Spokane!"

Murray didn't limit his commentary to cities. He also went after their signature sporting events. He called the Kentucky Derby "a hard luck race in a hard luck town" and suggested that the Indianapolis 500 should begin with the announcer saying, "Gentleman, start your coffins."

Murray wrote that the race was "as exciting as the freeway interchange at rush hour" and was "not so much a sporting event as a death watch.[40]

Though he typically skewered cities, teams, events and institutions, people weren't off limits. In response to the baseball commissioner's decision to put an asterisk on the home run record if it was broken after the 154th game, Murray wrote: "Ford Frick isn't the worst commissioner of baseball in history but he’s in the photo."[41]

Murray managed to remain on good terms with many of the athletes he most often needled. The people who knew Murray best agreed that he had a way of satirizing and criticizing without coming across as callous.

Kindred: "He wasn’t trying to hurt anybody. He was trying to make you laugh."

Firestone: "Even though he had sarcasm it was never mean-spirited. It was not snarky. It was just funny."

Former Times sports editor Bill Dwyre: "He was able to do that sort of thing without being mean-spirited."

Murray Hofmans: “Jim did not have a mean spirit. He didn't have a mean bone in his body. He did that to kind of provoke and he could put that knife in and just twist it a little bit, but people would come out smiling at the end of a column."

And Simers: "He was like the old grandfather who grew up in front of you, and even when he was cranky he was still loved."

In his autobiography, Murray said he felt obliged to address his reputation as “a serial killer -- of cities." He wrote that, "There’s hardly a hamlet in these here United States that didn’t at one time or another want to hang me from the highest yardarm."[42] Murray viewed his columns as a wake-up call for politicians to clean up their cities. It was “all good clean fun,"[43] he wrote. “I make no apologies."[44]

The Murray Way: Feisty, Witty and Modest

Murray also had fun at colleagues' expense. Simers remembers sitting next to Murray in the press box at a Super Bowl in the mid-1990s. A sports editor called to find out about the topic of Murray's column.

"He's going to write about the running backs," Simers told his editor.

"He can't do that," the editor said. The running backs had been no factor in the game, he and Simers agreed.

"You want to tell him?” Simers asked.

"Oh, no, no. You can't tell Murray," the editor said.

Ignoring his editor's advice, Simers approached Murray and questioned his angle.

"Jim, what are you doing a running backs column for?" Simers asked. "You knew Vince Lombardi and here's Mike Holmgren winning the Super Bowl. Why don't you talk to Holmgren about the similarities, the comparisons or whatever?"

Murray was stoic in response.

"I swear if he had a gun at that moment he would have shot me," Simers recalls. "And he didn't say a word. He walked over and he wrote an incredibly unbelievable Vince Lombardi-Mike Holmgren column."

A year passed without mention of the incident. Simers, Dwyre and Murray sat around a table the morning of the next Super Bowl to discuss assignments. Murray raised his hand.

"I'm waiting for my orders from Simers,” he deadpanned.

"It took an entire year to put it all in perspective,” Simers remembers. “It was a little wit, a little tweak to let me know what was going on. And that’s kind of how he was…The thing I remember the most about him is there was a little devil in his eye."

Murray never missed a chance to tweak young sportswriters. Like when Simers first approached him in a press box to praise his work.

"I probably sounded like a machine gun as I rattled off the things,” Simers said. "And he looks at me, looks at me, looks at me -- and he finally says, 'I knew all that.'"

Or when Firestone walked up to Murray at Dodger Stadium and started lavishing praise.

"Are you going to keep talking or are you going to sit down? You've gotta understand I’m just trying to make a living,” Firestone remembers Murray saying.

Out-of-town sportswriters covering the Rose Bowl also wanted their moment with Murray.

"There was this little lineup paying homage to the mafia father,” Dwyre said.

Murray had reached celebrity status – and not just among sportswriters. His column was syndicated in newspapers across the country, making him a household name. When Dwyre called his mother in Wisconsin to share the news that he had been named Times sports editor, she congratulated him and hung up the phone. Moments later she called back. "Wait a minute," she said. “Does this mean that you're Jim Murray's boss?"

As Murray’s boss, Dwyre accompanied the aging columnist to events he covered and helped him decide which speaking engagements to accept. Murray was flattered by the attention from writers and fans, but didn't understand it. "They're making me bigger than I am," he told Murray Hofmans.

Murray was known for his modesty. As he sat in the press box during games, he often made self-effacing comments about his ability to pull together the next day’s column.

"You know, I think probably today is the time I ought to retire,” Dwyre said. “He must have retired 500 times. But he would always produce a gem."

And he would do it, most always, in an unassuming fashion.

"You never heard him at a press conference," Kindred said. "You almost never heard him in a locker room. He was a listener and an observer."

That applied to covering sports. For Murray, there was no substitution for witnessing an event, a post-game rant, a scene from the crowd. It also applied to interactions with colleagues. Simers said Murray always wanted to know about other people and didn't want to talk about himself. Added Kindred, “What I liked about him was that he was a listener. He didn't need to be the show. He wasn't there to be Jim Murray. He was there just as another sports writer, another newspaper reporter doing what he did.”

Murray never talked about his process of coming up with column ideas or his philosophy on writing, Kindred said. "You just never heard that kind of talk because it would sound too much like bragging. That was the last thing he would do."

An Unmistakable Writing Style

Murray didn't have to explain his writing. His columns spoke for themselves. Biting humor was a common thread. The New York Times described his columns as "humorous, vinegary and graceful."[45]

Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, one of Murray's protégés, wrote that "Murray is a 750-word column, and 600 of those are laughs and toasts."[46] Murray was a humorist and satirist. Firestone said he thought Jack Lemmon could have played Murray in a one-man show.

Murray's columns read like stand-up comedy scripts. He often began with a punch line and built entire columns around jokes. "It wasn't always one great line but it was just line after line," Geltner said. "If it was a jockey you would get like 12 (paragraphs) about how small he was. And they were funny and they would build on each other, and they were the kind of staccato, short one-liners."

Simers said that while Murray was known for his punch lines, "I don't think he ever sat down and said, 'I'm writing one-liners.'"

Murray couldn't pass up a good pun. For an entire baseball season he prayed that Tim Harkness would hit a home run in extra innings so he could write the line, “the game was called on account of Harkness."[47]

Said Simers, "This is a guy who woke up with that little twinkle in his eye and said, 'Let’s have fun today wherever it takes us. I’m going to throw a lot of words together, a lot of similes, and a lot of different things.'"

Murray was a master of metaphors and analogies:

"Bill Russell is a great defensive player, but what he does under the basket is as hard to see as Texas Chiggers – as Bill intends."[48]

As [surfers] pull up to the Malibu Pier with a squeal of brakes and begin to pile out like clowns out of a circus car, they seem at first glance to look all alike – and not earth people at all."

"Going after a fly ball, [Frank Howard] looks like a moose chasing a butterfly."[49]

Murray was fascinated by language. He wrote columns about the words a French-Canadian fan used to cheer at a boxing fan and the phrases horse racing bettors used to comfort themselves. Murray had a command of language and a vocabulary that went “beyond the reach of the normal guy who grew up going to basketball games," Dwyre said.

Among Murray's pet peeves: the sports cliché. He once wrote a column decoding baseball managers’ favorite phrases. "We're going back to fundamental baseball" meant "no hitters." "We're basically a power club" meant "no pitchers."[50]

Murray believed in economy of words. Not just in his leads and kickers but throughout his columns. He loved one-sentence paragraphs and three-word sentences. He could shorten just about anything -- first names, last names, team nicknames (Celtics to "Celts"). A phrase he used on Murray Hofmans: "Cut to the chase."[51]

Murray saved words by leaving out quotes. He sat through press conferences and did lengthy interviews. He took detailed notes in his tiny reporter's notebook, Dwyre said. But he reserved quotes for only the most colorful athletes and coaches.

"I can write better than they talk" was a common Murray-ism.[52] And he often wrote with a scriptwriter's mentality. He used his literacy license to write fictional dialogue between sports figures -- real or mythical. He imaged a letter from a rookie's wife to the athlete on the road. Or a conversation between sportscasters and Roger Maris.

Editors didn't have to worry about Murray coming up with a new angle -- or missing a deadline. "It always looked like he had no idea what he was doing," Dwyre said. "He was an elderly man in a tweed coat with a sweater-vest on. He had these big glasses and he was looking at that silly computer, which he hated."

Firestone has several photos of Murray looking into the distance as he contemplated what to write. "He's really thinking of what he wants to say -- he's not just banging away. Once he found what he wanted to say things just cascaded out," Firestone said.

Times editors used to place bets on which writer would file first after Super Bowls and Final Fours. Murray was eventually taken off the board because he always filed first.

"It was done – and it was like poetry,” Dwyre said.

Tragedy and Triumph in the Twilight of His Career

Two of Murray's most poetic columns came in the wake of personal losses. The first was a response to what Murray refers to as “a one-year trip through a dark tunnel."[53] The combination of a detached retina in his left eye and a cataract in his right eye left him legally blind in 1979. This prompted a column in which Murray wrote that he "lost an old friend the other day."

During this period of lost vision he dictated his columns to a Times secretary and went to sporting events with a companion.[54] Cataract surgery helped him to improve his vision, which allowed him to once again write on his own.The second loss came several years later when Murray's first wife, Gerry, died of cancer. Several days before the funeral, Murray was with his children at home. He went into his office and in less than two hours churned out what Dwyre describes as "just the perfect heartfelt column."

Dwyre recalled walking into the newsroom where sports desk editors had just finished reading the piece. “These are grizzly guys,” Dwyre said. "Nothing bothers them. They hate everything. And I tell you, there were a lot of tears. It was an amazing moment."

Columns like these earned Murray frequent recognition. He was named "America's Best Sportswriter" 14 times by the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing." Ronald Reagan made a surprise appearance to present him with a lifetime achievement award. When the former president finished his introduction and a celebrity-filled room quieted down, Murray began his speech: "Did I die?"

Murray earned the most prestigious journalism award, the Pulitzer Prize, in 1990 after a years-long lobbying campaign by Dwyre and the Times. He was just the fourth sportswriter to earn the award for commentary. Self-deprecating as usual, Murray had noted that, "Correctly quoting Tommy Lasorda shouldn't merit a Pulitzer Prize."[55] But he also felt honored to receive the award in the final years of his career.

"It was really the one award that made him feel that everything he did in life, he was rewarded for that by his peers," Murray Hofmans said.

Added Dwyre, "That would have been a disaster for Jim Murray to just kind of walk away in the distance" without reaching the pinnacle of journalism. “The ending was good.”

The actual end came eight years later. Murray covered the Super Bowl in San Diego and the U.S. Open Golf tournament in San Francisco in his final year. His final column came on Sunday, August 16, 1998 from the Pacific Classic at the Del Mar Racetrack in San Diego. He had spent all day Saturday at the track -- one of his favorite places to be. Back at home in Los Angeles that Sunday night, he died at the age of 78 from cardiac arrest.

Leaving a Legacy

After his death, a foundation was created to honor Murray's legacy. His beloved typewriter has been given new life, restored by a collector and displayed at a recent foundation event. The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation has awarded 88 scholarships, $5,000 apiece, to college students interested in sportswriting. McCoy reads the scholarship applications, many of which comment on Murray's career, and can't help but think what he would make of sports journalism today.

His comments and writing provides some clues. "I don't belong in this world today," Murray told his wife in the years before his death.

"He was not ready for new technology," Geltner said. "He couldn't master it, didn't want to learn about it and really did not see the advantages of it."

He was attached to his typewriter and begrudgingly switched to a computer. He longed for the days of the baseball doubleheader. He wrote that television was like "The Red Light District." He lamented the emphasis on home run, slam dunk and hole-in-one highlights. Sports stars had become larger than life, he complained. "Overpaid, over-adulated, athletes, like rock stars, began to think of themselves as the new high priests of our civilization," [56] Murray wrote in his autobiography.

He placed some of the blame on sports writers for turning athletes into celebrities. Athletes, he wrote, no longer needed sports writers.

That's even truer in the social media age. How would Murray have responded to the tone of sports coverage on sports blogs and message boards?

"I don't think he would like the snark,” Kindred said. "He'd lament the meanness on the Internet. He'd lament the loss of humor. How many times have you read anything on the Internet that is intentionally funny from start to end? Very few columnists, very few sportswriters anymore think that they have any time to be funny."

Simers said he doubts Murray would have learned to tweet. But others disagree: "I think Jim would have loved Twitter," Murray Hofmans said. "Jim would have been an ace at that because he cut to the chase. He could just say it in so few words."

Added Geltner, "Because he was so smart and quick and funny I think he would have adapted. I could see Jim [on Twitter] because that was his thing -- writing tight one-liners." If Murray wrote 30 paragraphs, Kindred said, "20 of them would have been Twitter-able." Imagine the following for @TheRealJimMurray. The re-tweets of pithy comments on being a sports fan. The favored posts about life on the road. Links to columns about what makes athletes tick. The observation. The short anecdote. The vivid description. And, of course, the humor.

Murray's style would translate to many mediums. But at his core, he was a newspaperman -- trained to cover fires, chat up celebrities and bang out a column before deadline. He started on a small stage and ended in wide syndication. He covered sports his way and became a recognizable brand. Over a career that brought him into contact with media magnates, surly editors, egotistic athletes and swooning sports writers, he earned the respect of his sources and peers.

"He just had such good will within the profession," Geltner said.

And while Murray would scoff at the idea that he left a lasting legacy, the sports journalists whose careers he helped mold say otherwise.

"Murray was one of the people who shaped sportswriting and improved sportswriting," Kindred said.

"There was Red Smith and there was Jim Murray and there won't be any two better," Dwyre said.

Firestone went even further: "He was the best sports columnist, in my opinion, in the history of journalism."

-- Elia Powers recently earned his Ph.D. from and is an instructor at the the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @EliaPowers.

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In another reminder of how the Tampa Bay Rays are having more fun than any other team in baseball, Joe Maddon's club donned some groovy Woodstock-themed outfits for a flight to the West Coast.

After a 6-5 home loss to the Indians on Sunday, Rays players and coaches put on their best 1969 throwback clothes before boarding a flight to Seattle. The idea came from Maddon, who leads the league in creative ideas.

Here are some of the best looks:






According to Fox Sports, this was Maddon's 30th themed road trip since he started the idea in 2008. The team even made this poster in anticipation of the seven-game swing:


Maddon seems to have a thing for throwback looks. The 60-year-old loves the theme so much that he's even been the poster boy for the team's throwback uniforms to a time when the franchise didn't exist.

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