The best thing about sports history are the ‘What Ifs’

EDW football shuffles staff
June 5, 2014
Vandy-based Swampland squad building for ’15
June 5, 2014

The final bell has sounded, the final tests have been taken and thousands of local children have slumbered into the hibernation period that we commonly call summer vacation.

Gosh, I remember those days. The pure joy and exuberance of going to bed at 2 a.m. on a weeknight is unrivaled by any other feeling in the world of a 10 year old. The feeling of comfort one experiences when we then wake up at noon the next day? That’s sheer paradise for any child. It’s pure paradise.

But while I am happy for our local youngsters, I am also a bit jealous, because I wish I were in their shoes. Hey, I’m just being honest. When I signed up for this adulthood stuff, no one told me that there wasn’t a summer break attached.

Jealousy aside, I’m also quite disappointed in the summer break period for professional reasons because it means that my list of things to write about have shrunk 10-fold with local prep and college sports pretty much over until August and September.

So with story ideas blown to bits for a few weeks, I am now relegated to thinking outside of the box a little bit so that I can keep things afloat.

So today, I’d like to discuss sports history and how fickle or delicate it is, and how we seem to take some things for granted. Sure, everyone loves the guy who wins and everyone discredits the guy that loses, but so many little things along the way go into making the outcome a reality.

As the average sports fan, we are slaves to perception and prisoners to the standings. But what if just one, single thing happened differently in history? How could that have changed our entire landscape and thoughts about teams, players and history?

I know I am probably confusing you a bit right now, but just play along and listen with an open mind as I explore some of the most interesting (to me) what-if’s in sports history. It’s so amazing to me how just one decision, shot, movement or action can change how we view history forever.



WHAT IF – Miami Dolphins doctors had cleared Drew Brees?

People locally seem to forget that Brees was inches away from signing with the Miami Dolphins way back in 2006. Multiple reports said he preferred South Florida to Louisiana, and was comfortable with joining that team over the Saints. But the caveat was Brees’ shoulder. Miami’s doctors wouldn’t clear the quarterback during team physicals and urged the team to look away, leading Miami to sign Daunte Culpepper. What if they hadn’t have done that? Where would the Saints be today? Still in New Orleans? Maybe, maybe not. Would Brees have experienced the same success there as he did here? If so, we can make the argument that Nick Saban would still be coaching in the NFL, and not at Alabama. By that math, we can also conclude that Les Miles would have 2-3 BCS National Championship rings. It sounds outlandish, but that one doctor’s decision has changed all of history.

WHAT IF – The Charlotte Hornets had not traded Kobe Bryant?

Did you know that Kobe Bryant wasn’t drafted by the Lakers? That’s a fact. He was picked by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. Of course, Bryant never played a day with the Hornets. He was traded to the Lakers on draft night for Vlade Divac, and the rest is history. Bryant is now 35 and is arguably the second greatest NBA player of all-time behind Michael Jordan. He has five NBA Championships to his credit, and (if healthy) he has an outside shot to becoming the leading scorer in NBA history. But what if the Hornets had kept him? By my math, the Lakers would have never gotten Shaquille O’Neal in free agency, meaning he likely stays in Orlando. That means Phil Jackson would have five fewer titles on his hands and wouldn’t be considered the greatest coach of all-time. Likewise, the Hornets would have never moved from Charlotte to New Orleans, because the team would have turned a serious profit. Would New Orleans have a team today? If so, who? We could have possibly gotten the Seattle Supersonics when they left. Can you imagine KD and Russell Westbrook in the Big Easy? That’s a big-time what if, but wow!

WHAT IF – Jose Canseco had never squealed about steroids in baseball?

The first two were put atop my list because of local implications, but this one here is my favorite on the list. In 2005, Jose Canseco wrote a tell-all book in which he squealed about steroid use in baseball, implicating several top players by name, even giving the specific methods players used to get and inject the drugs. The book took baseball by storm and changed the entire landscape of the sport, outing several of the generation’s top players for their use. But what if Canseco had stayed silent and the book had never come out? Would we see Barry Bonds as the home run king today? Without the pressure and suspicion around home, could Bonds have possibly hit 800-plus home runs? What about A-Rod? Where would he be today if the baseball police had not hauled him in? Today, pitching has taken over the game as the sport has become cleaner. But what if it hadn’t? Would we be seeing 10-9 games routinely like old-school college baseball? If so, would the sport be more popular? Less popular?

WHAT IF – Drew Bledsoe had never gotten hurt?

Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick – a guy that no one really ever expected to make much of a splash in the NFL ranks. But he got his chance at superstardom in 2001 when Bledsoe went down after taking a wicked blow to the head. Brady never looked back, and his tenacity has changed the entire NFL landscape. Under Brady, the Patriots have become the gold standard for the NFL – the franchise that the other teams in the league try and duplicate. The former backup is now an undisputed first-ballot Hall of Famer – a guy who is among the Top 5 quarterbacks of all-time. But Bledsoe was a solid starter, too, and by all accounts, the Patriots were not considering benching him for Brady before the injury. Had he not gotten hurt, what could have happened? Would New England have traded Brady to a team desperate for a quarterback? Would they have had the same success with Bledsoe? Would we regard Bill Belichick as the NFL’s best modern coach had he not stumbled onto Brady? Probably not. Would the team have moved on from him and found a new coach? It’s definitely possible and worth mentioning, especially when one considers that Belichick didn’t succeed in his first gig with the Cleveland Browns. One sack and injury led to the Tom Brady Era in the NFL. Without that lone play, the entire history of the league would be different today.

WHAT IF – The USA hockey team lost the ‘Miracle on Ice’ game?

The best game in the history of sports took place on Feb. 22, 1980 when the United States hockey team beat the USSR in the Semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. The Americans were an unheralded bunch – a group of college kids trying to find their niche in the game. The mighty Russians were regarded as unbeatable – the best collection of players that the sport had ever seen. To make the stakes even higher, the two countries were feuding politically during the 1970s and 1980s with the Cold War as each tried to solidify itself as the dominant nation in the world. But while many expected the Russians to crush and humble the Americans, the U.S. stood tall and pulled off the greatest upset in the history of organized sports, defeating the USSR 4-3. With the win, our nation had renewed confidence. And many people tout that this game was the beginning of the end for Russia’s chances in the Cold War. And a lot of it is because of a few young, scrappy college kids who just wouldn’t accept defeat against a team heralded as the best in the world. Would we be the leader of the free world today without that win? Who knows? Probably so. But you never know.