Top 10 *'s in Sports
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
So a few years back Quarterback Tom Brady allegedly had some lackeys slightly deflate some footballs and a bunch morons (including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) acted like he had stolen the crown jewels. I hated the New England Patriots as much as anyone, but Deflategate made me actually feel kind of sorry for the Pats. Some sportswriters even wanted to slap an * on their championship. Guess what? That issue's not even on my radar for these are the Top 10 TRUE *’s in Sports.
(Don’t know what an asterisk is in relation to sports records? It basically drops a giant BUT on your accomplishment. Using the example above, in 2015 an ubër-Patriots Hater started the “Asterisk Project” to get an * added to the New England Patriots Super Bowl win in the record books.)
10. Babe Ruth – Roger Maris – Hank Aaron – Barry Bonds
Few players are bigger than the game, but from 1914 to 1934 Babe Ruth was bigger than Baseball as the national past time’s 12-time AL Home Run Leader. Not only did the New York Yankee’s slugger lead the league in home runs 12 times, but in some years he hit more home runs than some TEAMS. Retiring in 1935 after a short stint with the Boston Braves, Ruth’s final home run total was 714. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run mark in 1961, baseball slapped an asterisk on his record. An asterisk that lasted for 30 years. Though Aaron broke Ruth’s record in 1974, some fans tried to argue that Aaron should get an asterisk because he needed more at-bats to break the record. At least baseball learned their lesson and didn’t do that again. Aaron was the new career home run champ. (Sadly, Aaron mostly got death threats and racist taunts.) Once considered one of the most sacred records in sports, Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s career home-run record in 2007. Now Barry Bonds, Pittsburg Pirate edition, looked like a sleek hitting machine. Barry Bonds in 2007 looked like a body-builder with a head that grew over 20 seasons. Of course he was using PED’s, but asleep-at-the-wheel Bud Selig didn’t do anything until baseball was permanently tarnished. Barry Bonds’ cheating was so extensive that a whole book, Game of Shadows, outlined Bond’s steroid use. In 2009, Aaron himself called for an * for PED users’ career numbers.
Some have even argued that Babe Ruth should get an asterisk because he only played against White players.
9. 1980 Olympics / 1984 Olympics
A month out from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, seemingly every country will be there, even trouble-makers like North Korea and first-timers Kosovo and South Sudan. Why do I mention this? Because throughout history, countries of all sizes and political types have used the Olympics as propaganda, both as to why they should, and should not, go. In 1980 things got out of control and America said they were going to boycott the Moscow games. Boycotting along with the U.S. were countries as varied as Argentina, Canada, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Japan and the Olympics themselves were in danger of ceasing to exist. The Soviets cleaned up in the medal count as 65 countries did not participate. Ironically, the reason given by most countries was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A generation later, the United States found themselves in the same quagmire of Afghanistan.
So in 1984 the Soviet Union boycotted the L.A. Summer Games, well, BECAUSE. As countries from the Eastern Bloc, Southeast Asia, and Central Africa joined the boycott, the Americans cleaned up. Their greatest medal count in history, by a lot, gets and asterisk, as does the greatest Soviet medal count in 1980.
8. Strike shortened NBA season of 1999
In 1999, a smug Phil Jackson suggested that NBA champs, the San Antonio Spurs, should get an asterisk for winning in a strike shortened season. Jackson’s comments could be construed as gamesmanship by his supporters but being a straight up jerk move by his detractors. In 1999 Jackson wasn’t even coaching anyone, he was on his off year between the Bulls and the L.A. Lakers. It was stunning that any championship coach would affix an asterisk on another team.
Don’t feel bad for the Spurs, though, they would win the championship again in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014 and still have the same head coach (as of 2016). Phil Jackson was such a pain-in-the-ass Drama Queen that he wore out his welcome in L.A. despite winning 5 Championships and dating Team President Jeanie Buss.
7. World War II in America
Arguably one of the most popular sports leagues in the world today is the English Premiere League. As the top flight of soccer in England, the First Division can trace its roots to 1892. Before the 1939 season started, all top level play was suspended in England through 1945. At the same time, both the National Football League and Major League Baseball decided to play on in America. In Major League Baseball, 3 dozen Baseball Hall of Famers went off to war including Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson (before he broke the color barrier), Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. In total, 500 players served and over a hundred died on overseas battlefields. The NFL was not the juggernaut it is today, fielding only about 10 teams each year, including the 1943 “Steagles” (Pittsburg Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles merged team) and the 1944 “Carpets” (Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburg Steelers merged team). 21 NFL’ers were killed in WWII and the NFL Hall of Fame claims 994 personnel served in the war. (Even though many were after the fact contributors and front office personnel).
Even though the NFL and MLB kept their doors open during the War, there is so much money in sports today, I can’t even imagine a scenario where any new war would shut North American leagues down. The point is, all champions during World War II get an asterisk on behalf of their greedy owners. Which leads us to one of the worst cash grabs in American sports history….
6. 1987 NFL Season
Week 2 of the 1987 NFL Season found the NFL Players Association flexing their muscles and voting for a strike. Week 3 was promptly cancelled. Then the owners got together and came up with the idea to use replacement players for week 4. The owners knew, deep in their black, black hearts, that the players didn’t matter, it was the game and their stellar marketing skills that brought the fans out to the stadiums. Players were interchangeable commodities. So the owners rounded up recently folded USFL players and CFL castoffs, oh, and also about 15% of full-time players crossed the picket lines. For the next 3 weeks tensions grew as isolated pockets of violence sullied the NFL with a downturn in ratings and a plummeting stadium attendance. After 24 days, it was time to get back to work. Lots of angry people across the board. Players were angry with everyone: owners, replacement players, and coaches. Owners were angry because they though just by plastering a logo on a ticket people would show up.
The defending champion New York Giants went 0-3 during the replacement games, costing them a chance to defend their title, so the whole 1987 season gets an asterisk. Except the Detroit Lions, their season wasn’t going anywhere anyhow.
5. 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining agreement killed College Basketball
Every season of college basketball from 2005 on gets an asterisk. Because a few kids were able to make the leap from high school to the pros, the NBA dictated the ‘one and done’ rule to the colleges. Athletes had to go to college (or overseas) for a year. Unlike college football which requires a three year commitment, which we’ll get to later, the most talented basketball athletes are gone at the end of their semester of Freshman Year. College teams can’t build any type of cohesion, and most kids don’t learn much in their months of college. Basketball players whined the system wasn’t fair but let me turn the tables and ask you a few questions. You want to be an astronaut and you’re a genius. Do you get to skip astronaut training? Of course not. What adult careers allow you to bypass college on the job resume? Yeah, that’s what I thought. The NBA did the very bare minimum to protect their brand and the ramifications of gutting top college basketball teams was an afterthought.
4. O J Simpson – Hall of Famer
One of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Enshrined back in 1985, OJ was enjoying a nice little post-playing career until 1994. Then the (crap) hit the fan. On June 12, 1994 Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found murdered and OJ was put on trial for their murder. Not any trial, but the Trial of the Century. He was famously found not guilty, but was later found liable for their deaths and was ordered to pay almost $34 million in damages. There was a movement to have OJ removed from the Hall of Fame, but the Hall pleaded that there was simply no mechanism to take him (or anyone) out of the Hall. With one of the weakest arguments ever, Simpson should, at the very least, have an asterisk next to his name in Canton. Something like O.J. Simpson* - One of the Greatest Running Backs of All Time (*May or may not have murdered 2 people in 1994).
Never out of the public eye for long, OJ was in trouble for tax evasion in 2001 and was convicted in 2007 of robbing a memorabilia dealer of OJ Simpson merchandise. For a public that never seemed to tire of OJ Simpson news, 2016 brought 2 more Mini-Series exploring the series of events around the Simpson-Goldman murders. Seriously, unless I missed it, I was just on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website and I didn’t see an asterisk, or anything for that matter, outlining Simpson’s post-playing days.
3. Tour de France 1999-2005
In a sporting world filled with dirty, rotten cheaters, one would be hard pressed to find a more depressing tale than that of Lance Armstrong. In 1996, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer and took off for a year and a half for treatments. Returning in 1998, Lance Armstrong roared back into form and then some. Armstrong ended up winning the next 7 Tour de Frances starting in 1999, amongst other bike races. Also starting in 1999, Armstrong was dogged by doping allegations. Always a class act, Armstrong vehemently denied cheating, and threatened lawsuits against anyone who put their name next to accusations. In 2003, Armstrong’s charity launched the Livestrong Brand that supports people affected by cancer. Promoting the Livestrong brand and the sport he loved, I personally heard Armstrong strongly deny all doping allegations on the Jim Rome Show in the 00’s.
Held up as one of the greatest role models not just in America, but in the world, due to obstacles he had to overcome, it all began to unravel when Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis tested positive for PED’s after winning the 2006 Tour de France. In a 2010 lawsuit, Landis detailed his cheating, along with everyone else’s, including Armstrong’s. Long story short, Armstrong admitted his transgressions against cycling in 2013, was then stripped of every title past 1998, and banned from cycling for life. He also lost $75 million in one day when all of his sponsors dropped him and he was forced to resign from his own charity that once bore his name.
Here’s where it gets a bit (more) complicated. Armstrong didn’t get an asterisk for cheating. His name was STRICKEN from the cycling record books. So who won those Tour de Frances from 1999-2005? Technically, no one. Let’s take the 2003 Tour de France for example. In most sports, if the winner was disqualified, then second place would get the ring. Eight of the 10 top finishers that year have been suspended for doping in their careers. What do you do now? Give it to 9th place finisher Carlos Sastre for staying clean? Maybe Lance Armstrong’s status should be UPGRADED to an asterisk.
2. East German athletes 1964-1988
I remember being a kid loving the Wide World of Sports on ABC. But even as an impressionable youth, I recall the jokes made about the East German Olympic teams. They just didn’t look like the other teams.
Well there was more to that statement than anyone would ever know. The East Germans would heavily scout young athletes, identify them, and then send them away to Youth Centers for more intense training. The best of the best were fed ‘vitamins’ starting at age 14. Put yourself in the athlete’s shoes. You’re 14, you’re away from home, and your coach tells you to take your vitamins or else extra exercise for you. Of course you take the pills. Maybe some bright kids suspected they were really steroids or HGH, but often the East German Federation would get the parents’ permission to dispense ‘medication’. This didn’t happen once, or twice, or a dozen times. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany, it was revealed that an estimated 10,000 East German athletes fell into this systemic scam. In a grotesque abuse of authority, East Germany gets a 24 year asterisk, even though some athletes were never told they were even taking steroids.
1. College Football Champions
My entire life I was told that by NOT having a national champion in College Football, that the controversy would spur debate in the sport. Literally generations of chuckleheads disguising their greed.
In a tradition almost as old as the sport itself, in 1874 there were 9 accepted college football teams. Both Princeton (2-0) and Yale (3-0) claimed the championship for themselves. In 1901 there were 45 teams and the first Bowl game was played. The 1902 Rose Bowl pitted the Michigan Wolverines vs. the Stanford Cardinals with Michigan winning 49-0. After the game Michigan was declared… co-champion with Harvard (12-0), season over. Instead of fixing the problem back in 1902, the situation of crowning a college football champion became more and more problematic.
By 1921, there were 102 teams, with 6 listed as NCAA Champions (only Cal, Cornell, and Lafayette claim the championships for themselves). Cal’s claim was noted as most deserving by historians, despite a 0-0 tie in the Rose Bowl.
With the stellar excuse of ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ there was no reason to find a national champion. As Bowl games became more popular in numbers there was simply no financial incentive to put a national championship game into place. Somehow, magically, every other sport in the United States found a way to crown a Champion, except for college football. Systems came and went trying to guide teams to play each other at the end. But regional interests always trumped the interest of the game. In 2003, there was yet another split championship with both USC and LSU claiming the honor. By then there finally seemed to be some traction to fix a problem over a 100 years in the making, but the wheels turn slowly in college football. Ten years later, in 2014, college football had its first National Champion, decided on the field, in a playoff, and it was won by the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Guess what college football? All champions 2013 and before get an asterisk
Editor's Note: Cleaned up an astonishing 8 grammatical errors in 2019 and added 2 dozen words