10/25/2004 3:02 AM ET
Schilling joins class of courage
Boston hurler's gritty performance is one for the ages
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
|Blood, from fresh sutures to patch a torn tendon, soaks through Curt Schilling's sock as he pitches in Game 2 of the World Series. (Winslow Townson/AP)
What Curt Schilling did Sunday night in Game 2 of the World Series belongs in a special class, the kind of story that will be told and retold for generations to come. This was Kirk Gibson limping up to the plate, Willis Reed coming out of the tunnel, and Michael Jordan throwing up one more time in Utah and then demanding the ball.
Profiles in courage, in honor of a classic performance:
As long as we're talking about the World Series, any discussion of great performances while playing in pain might as well start with the most classic example that Tony La Russa didn't want to see. In Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, La Russa's A's had a 3-2 lead over Los Angeles and Dennis Eckersley was one out away from closing out what seemed like an automatic victory. Gibson limped up to the plate with a strained hamstring and sprained knee ligament, worked the count full with one man on, and hit the "Miracle Homer" into the right-field seats at Dodger Stadium. He hobbled around the bases, pumping his fists, and sent the Dodgers on their way to a stunning world championship.
At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the U.S. diving great performed the ninth of 11 preliminary dives in the three-meter springboard competition. Louganis cracked his head horrifically on the diving board, hit the water with a big splat and suffered a cut that required temporary sutures. He returned to finish his qualifying dives 35 minutes later, and after the prelims went to a hospital for five stitches. Days later, he won yet another gold medal and became the first diver in history to successfully defend his springboard title. "I think my pride was hurt more than anything else," he said.
The New York Knicks' center had a severely pulled right thigh muscle during the 1970 NBA Finals, and in Game 6 the Knicks had been torched for 45 points and 27 rebounds by the Lakers' Wilt Chamberlain. Knicks fans will never forget the sight of Reed coming out of the tunnel for Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, limping onto the court amid thundering applause. It was the ultimate inspiring performance, lifting teammates and helping the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and their first NBA championship.
At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the U.S. gymnast had torn ligaments in her left ankle and scored a low 9.162 on her first vault -- a painful landing that was agonizing just to watch. Yet Strug shook off the obvious pain, running down the ramp for her next vault and scoring a 9.712 to nail one of the most difficult moves: the twisting Yurchenko. It was enough to hold off Russia and give Team USA its first gold medal in team gymnastics.
In the first half of a 1979 divisional playoff game against the Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams' linebacker was chop-blocked by two Dallas Cowboys -- snapping the left fibula above the ankle. Youngblood wore a leg brace in the second half, sacked Roger Staubach along the way and helped the Rams to a 21-19 upset victory. That wasn't the end of it. Youngblood was an emotional leader as the Rams proceeded to win the NFC championship, and he wore the brace in the Super Bowl loss against the Steelers and the Pro Bowl. When Youngblood was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that courageous effort was remembered as his defining moment.
The Detroit Red Wings' star had reconstructive knee surgery after leading his team to the NHL's 2001 Stanley Cup title, and he missed the first half of the following season and was playing in pain through the second half and the playoffs. "The bottom line is simple," Yzerman said during that 2002 Stanley Cup chase. "We play to win the Stanley Cup and all of us have bumps and bruises to deal with. Sometimes you have to play through pain in order to achieve what you've set out to do." It was a classic understatement on his part; Yzerman, basically playing on one skate, led the Wings to another championship.
In Game 1 of a 1991 playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics' great was listed as doubtful at game time because of the back injury that ultimately would force his retirement. Yet Bird had a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to lead the Celtics to a 127-120 victory -- and then spent the night in traction at a Boston hospital.
"Broadway Joe" is best remembered for backing up his "guarantee" and leading the New York Jets to a shocking, 16-7, victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, legitimizing the American Football League and leading to a merger that would create a new NFL. But his career also is remembered for two of the worst knees in the game, and they were that way from the moment he joined the Jets as a rookie. In that big game at Miami's Orange Bowl, Namath calmly directed the Jets on four scoring drives, completing 17-of-28 passes for 206 yards and being voted the game's MVP, while doing it all on knees that might have slowed others.
There was nothing unusual about His Airness playing through the occasional flu and cold, but it was especially memorable when he scored 38 points -- including 15 in the fourth quarter -- to lead the Chicago Bulls to a Game 5 victory at Utah in the 1997 NBA Finals. Jordan ate bad pizza the night before the game and, weakened by food poisoning and a stomach virus, could barely stand up by game time. He was dehydrated and dizzy and couldn't keep solid food down. But he was still Mike, and the victory gave the Bulls a 3-2 series lead and swung them toward yet another of their six titles during his reign. "The effort he came out and showed us was incredible," teammate Scottie Pippen said. "He's not only the greatest player ever, but the greatest leader ever."
The Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback broke his right fibula above the ankle on the third play of a game against Arizona on Nov. 19, 2002. McNabb made coaches and trainers believe it was just a sprain, and, limited to pocket passing, he threw for 255 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-14 victory. X-rays were taken later, and the Eagles decided to sideline him for the team's last six games of the regular season.
With the Detroit Pistons holding a 3-2 lead in the 1988 NBA Finals, the series shifted to The Forum in Los Angeles and everyone was asking whether the Pistons' guard could play. He had a badly sprained ankle, and Thomas not only played but set an NBA Finals record by scoring 25 of his 43 points in one quarter of Game 6. Unfortunately for the Pistons, Thomas' courageous performance was not enough; the Lakers won those last two games. Detroit would win it all the next two seasons.
Now you can add Curt Schilling to the list. Way up high.
"I wanted it for my teammates, I wanted to be able to glorify God's name when all was said and done," Schilling said after winning Game 2 against the Cardinals while pitching with fresh sutures to patch up a torn tendon in his ankle. "And these fans were as much a part of that. They believe in me to the umpteenth degree and a lot of times I tell the other guys, 'Don't be the only guy not believing in yourself; everybody here believes in you.' That's what I tried to walk out there with tonight."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.