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Inspirational Moments in Sports

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Russell W. Shurts’ post about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team led me to think of other outstanding moments in sports history. Achievement is inherent in the nature of sports and the list of personal and team achievements is long as is the list of virtues exemplified by those achievements. What I was looking for, though, were moments which had significance beyond the sport itself, instances which hold out to us a glimpse of what man can be and ought to be. Here are three of my favorites, with descriptive quotations. What are some of yours?

1) Cal Ripken completes 2131 consecutive games.

“I think America looks at Cal Ripken playing every game, playing them in the same small town where he grew up, putting his hand over his fluttering heart as the ovations pour over him like tidal waves, and signing autographs afterward, and says to itself: "Here is a man I can respect. Here is a man with values I admire." You don't often hear that about professional athletes anymore.”

BTW - It was widely reported at the time that Cal Ripken is a fan of “The Fountainhead.”

2)Michael Jordan plays his last game with the Chicago Bulls

“The shot looked like so many others during his remarkable career.

The defender loses his footing and falls to the court as he tries to keep the best player in the world from blowing past him. Michael Jordan seizes the moment. He stops on a dime, elevates and lets fly with the shot that will win or lose the game. Nothing but net.

Nothing but an 87-86 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Nothing but a sixth title in an eight-year span.

Nothing but another tableau to enhance the legend.

June 14, 1998, was the last game Jordan played with the Chicago Bulls, and the ending was storybook perfect. His Highness scored 45 points and hit the game-winning basket with 5.2 seconds left after having stolen the ball seconds earlier to set up this dramatic finale.”

3)Lance Armstrong wins the Tour de France for the sixth consecutive year

“Lance Armstrong rode into history Sunday, winning a record sixth Tour de France and cementing his place as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Never in its 101-year history has the Tour had a winner like Armstrong — who just eight years ago was given less than a 50% chance of overcoming testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain.

His streak of six straight crowns has helped reinvigorate the greatest race in cycling... His professionalism, attention to detail, grueling training regimens and tactics have raised the bar for other riders hoping to win the three-week cycling marathon.

'He's changed the Tour forever,' said fellow American rider Bobby Julich.”

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The one sports event that stands out in my mind, from an historical perspective as well personally, occured on October 5, 1955: The Brooklyn Dodgers beat their arch nemesis, the New York Yankees, and they brought the first World Series championship home to their die-hard Brooklyn fans.

If ever there was a sports team that exemplified spirit and soul, it was the Brooklyn Dodgers. And if ever there existed fans who exemplified pride and loyalty in the team they loved, it was those Brooklyn fans who loved "dem bums." And the fierceness of their love for their team was transformed equally into fierce hatred of the Yankee rivals.

The New York Yankees were that "other" team from that "other" borough, the team that every Dodger fan, on the surface, hated and booed. But if you searched deeper within each fan you could find a hidden feeling of admiration and wonder towards the Yankees. After all, just in the eight most recently preceeding years the Yankees won six World Series. By 1955 the Yankees had won half the World Championships during the past thirty years!

When 1955 rolled around, Brooklyn had never won a World Series in the fifty-two years since the Series started. The Dodgers had won four pennants during the last eight years, and in each year the Yankees clobbered them out of the World Series championship. So it was with trepidation that the Brooklyn fans turned out to cheer on dem bums. The 1955 Series was typical drama for the Dodgers, with the climax being the deciding seventh game of the Series.

Brooklyn had been to that final game before, but it had always ended in heartbreak. But here they were, in the final inning of the deciding game, ahead 2 to 0, two outs down, one last out to go. The more than 62,000 fans were absolutely silent. You could hear a pin drop in Ebbets field when a ground ball was hit to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who fired the ball over to first baseman Gil Hodges. The inbred sense of Brooklyn tragedy was so great that every Dodger fan in that stadium, and every one listening to the game throughout Brooklyn, fully expected the throw to be wild and the Yankees to go on and win the game 3 to 2. But benevolence shone on Brooklyn that day, and Hodges stretched low and came up with the ball, and the stadium and all of Brooklyn alike exploded with glee. Dem bums had won the World Series!

The celebration in Brooklyn that day was, historically, the first of its kind; the first of many spontaneous grand-scale sports celebrations to come. But, unlike many of the fan responses we read about today, the Brooklyn celebration was not marred with destruction. These were a jubilant people celebrating a mammoth event, the overthrowing of the tragic sense of life that Brooklynites felt about their team. There was nothing but joy and benevolence in all of Brooklyn that day. The world was bright. All of Brooklyn was a winner.

(Sad addendum:Two years later Walter O'Malley moved our beloved Brooklyn Dodgers to California. In a single blow O'Malley brought back the tragic sense that the fans had shed. Since then I have followed that team out to the land of sunshine, and I again live next to the Dodgers. But since dem bums left Brooklyn, I pay no attention to baseball anymore.)

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The U.S. Olympic Hockey team beating the Soviets was pretty good, even if I only saw the movie version. I'd have liked to have seen the real thing. I think that was in 1980.

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I would say the reigning NBA World Champions, the Detroit Pistons. This is a team that nobody last year thought would win it all--but they did. They essentially did it with punishing defense and hustle which equates to hard work. They ground out some games during the last playoffs that became Instant Classics. This was a team of NBA castoffs and misfits who came together under Coach Larry Brown's philosophy of "play the game the right way". The national media heraleded this team as "unselfish" and a true "team". But every part of this team was talented and a proud individual. The "unselfishness" usually referred to players making the extra pass, "sharing the wealth", or helping of defense, but these could only really be truly be considered "unselfish" if there ultimate goal wasn't to win games. The Pistons beat the mighty L.A. Lakers in a 5-game "sweep" much to the chagrin of the national media and sports pundits. They dismantled the Lakers and one by huge margins in most game, and would have had a real "sweep" if it wasn't for the last minute heroics of Kobe Bryant in game 2. The Piston's championship last year was a thing of beauty in every sense, and they are set to possibly repeat this year.

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The two moments that stick out in my mind both involve John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

The first being "The Drive" in which Elway led the Broncos on a game-tying drive, with less than two minutes left, on the road in Cleveland. The Broncos won in overtime and went on to Super Bowl XXI. We won't discuss what occurred in that game though. :o

The second coming 11 years later when the Broncos won their first Super Bowl (SB XXXII) against the Green Bay Packers. Elway finally got a Super Bowl ring, culminating his career as the best quarterback that has ever played the game.

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The two moments that stick out in my mind both involve John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

As a native Denverite my fondest sports memories are of the Broncos and their successes. The one that I will remember most, however, happened 6 years before John Elway came on the scene when the Broncos beat the hated Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game to go to the Super Bowl for the first time. This was heady stuff for the former laughingstock of the old AFL, the team that once wore vertically-striped socks and whose General Manager used to go into the stands to retrieve kicked footballs from the very few paying customers.

That is a personal story, however, but one that I find more universally inspirational is Arthur Ashe winning Wimbledon in 1975. To set the stage, understand that 1975 was when Jimmy Connors was at the peak of his powers. He was young and brash and had been winning matches and tournaments with ease all season. Arthur Ashe, by contrast, was 31 and very much on the downside of his career. Connors hadn't lost a set prior to the final, while Ashe had barely escaped three previous matches.

Connors was the prohibitive favorite, but in what remains my favorite tennis match of all time, Ashe completely outfoxed him. One of the reasons I enjoy tennis so much is because it is so cerebral. A smart thinking player can almost always beat a more physical player even one as formidable as a young Jimmy Connors, and this is precisely what happened on this day. Instead of trying to match Connors' power, Ashe turned Connors' power against him by continually playing soft, angled unconventional shots. In so doing he rolled through the first two sets, 6-1, 6-1, before finally subduing Connors in the 4th set. It was an unbelievable upset, and a tremendous and fitting accomplishment by a heroic man.

To this day, Arthur Ashe remains one of my heroes.

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Connors was the prohibitive favorite, but in what remains my favorite tennis match of all time, Ashe completely outfoxed him.  One of the reasons I enjoy tennis so much is because it is so cerebral.  A smart thinking player can almost always beat a more physical player even one as formidable as a young Jimmy Connors, and this is precisely what happened on this day.  Instead of trying to match Connors' power, Ashe turned Connors' power against him by continually playing soft, angled unconventional shots.  In so doing he rolled through the first two sets, 6-1, 6-1, before finally subduing Connors in the 4th set.  It was an unbelievable upset, and a tremendous and fitting accomplishment by a heroic man.

To this day, Arthur Ashe remains one of my heroes.

I am too young to remember when Arthur Ashe played (I was born in 1979), my tennis heroes have always been Ardre Agassi and Pete Sampras. As a tennis player, I can totally agree with you about tennis being a cerebral game, I can't think of another sport where mental toughness is so important. If your opponent gets "inside" your head or you can get inside your opponent's head, the match is all but over.

When I was playing high school tennis I read a book by Brad Gilbert called Winning Ugly : Mental Warfare in Tennis--Lessons from a Master and my game immediately improved. By taking advantage of the mental aspects of the game I became a noticeably better player, without any increase in physical ability.

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With all due deference to Stephen, I'm a die-hard Yankees fan. :)

I grew up mainly in Japan, during the 50's and early 60's. The Yankee's were "America's team." It was during this time of occupation that the Japanese came to love baseball. There was always a game going somewhere. I remember that every sailor seemed to have a mitt. The ubiquitous swarm of young Japanese children were always about. They picked up the game very quickly.

My favorite memory of the Yankee's is when Roger Maris broke the Babe Ruth's homerun record.

My father had died in March of '61, and I suddenly found myself landlocked, in Oklahoma City! It was a terribly depressing time. But the start of the baseball season saw a battle between Mickie Mantle and Roger Maris to break the Babe's record. Though Mantle bowed out (he ended his career with 54 homeruns) due to the consequences of his many injuries, Maris soldiered on in the face of growing criticism for even trying. There was a whole cadré of folks who thought it was almost sacriligious for anyone to challenge Ruth's long-held record of 60 career homeruns. They made his life an unspeakable misery.

I remember my joy when he hit 61! It seemed to restore my world to see it. He had gone through so much to make that homerun; he taught me about facing down adversity and winning at a time when I needed the lesson.

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I grew up mainly in Japan, during the 50's and early 60's.  The Yankee's were "America's team."  It was during this time of occupation that the Japanese came to love baseball.  There was always a game going somewhere.  I remember that every sailor seemed to have a mitt.  The ubiquitous swarm of young Japanese children were always about.  They picked up the game very quickly. 

My favorite memory of the Yankee's is when Roger Maris broke the Babe Ruth's homerun record. 

Ah, geez. I previewed this post and still didn't catch all the errors. Sorry. It is after 3 AM. :)

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As I indicated in a previous thread, the greatest sports moment for me came when the US hockey team defeated the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. This is so not only because America was victorious against the Evil Empire as the Cold War raged on (and the Carter administration didn’t nothing about the US hostages taken by the Iranian thugs), but also because the Soviet players were so extraordinary -- so undefeatable. They were absolutely a force to be reckoned with (having won the gold medal for many consecutive Olympics), and that a group of amateur Americans finally beat them brought absolute elation.

(A note to Rose Lake: The movie “Miracle” falls far short of capturing grandness of that victory. And that’s largely because “Miracle” was classic Hollywood filmmaking: draw an equivalency between the US and Communist Russia.)

Also, as a young Yankee fan at the time, Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series that sealed the championship against the LA Dodgers was especially memorable for me. It was the first time a team I’d regularly rooted for won a championship.

Lastly, as long-time Miami Dolphins fan and nearly-lifelong New Yorker who has had to endure the dreadful Jets fans, Marino’s fake spike play in (1995?) as the final touchdown in a come-from-behind victory against New York was especially memorable for me. As Marino loves to tell the story of that game and play, there’s nothing better than silencing 72,000 Jets fans in their own stadium. Touch!

As an aside, and not necessarily to open up a “best of all time” debate, I believe Marino was the greatest quarterback ever. Yes, I know, he -- actually, the Miami Dolphins -- never won a Super Bowl during his tenure as the starting QB there from 1983-1999. But as a pure passer, no one was better than Marino. No quarterback threw the ball with such speed and pinpoint accuracy as he did, and he could throw virtually any kind of pass -- including the bomb. He was as fierce a competitor as ever played the game, and wore that intensity on his sleeve on *every* play. It’s one of the greatest shames in professional football that Dolphins franchise never surrounded him with a team good enough to win Super Bowls.

Because Marino provided me with so much inspiration as I watched his entire career, I intend to travel to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, this August to see him be inducted along with the great Steve Young. It was said that when Marino’s name was raised to the 39 sports journalists responsible for voting players in the hall, they didn’t even vote. They just went on to the next name. Apparently, this happened only a handful of other times with other greats of the game.

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I have a permanent spot in my heart for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who were the only team in NFL history to complete an entire season undefeated. I was (and am) a big football fan, and at the time (age 11) I devoured every little thing I could find about the sport. I had become a Dolphins fan the year before, when they played the Kansas City Chiefs in what was then (and I think still is) the longest game in league history. By the '72 season I all but had everything about the team memorized, and I was ecstatic when they beat the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Paul Warfield, Mercury Morris, Manny Fernandez, Larry Little, Dick Anderson, Nick Buoniconti, Bob Kuechenberg, Earl Morrall, Jake Scott, Howard Twilley, Garo Yepremian - these are among the names I'll never forget when I think of champions.

That year, Sunoco ran a promo where you could collect stamp-sized stickers of each player in the league, with a book to put them in. I collected every stamp and filled that book, which I still have. Every once in a while I get it out and reminisce. :)

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Seeing "The Captain" hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time (in 1997) is my own personal favorite moment in sports.

For non-hockey fans, the Stanley Cup is the trophy awarded to the NHL league champions, and by tradition, the players on the winning team pick the trophy up (it's almost four feet tall) and hold it overhead as they skate around the ice - with the team captain being the first to do so.

I was born and raised in the Detroit suburban area, and I grew up idolizing Red Wing (and NHL hall of famer) Gordie Howe (Wayne Gretzky broke nearly all his records). The Howe-led Wings were a dynamite team for years, but for most of my life, the Wings were the league's doormat.

In 1983, the Wings drafted this skinny Yzerman kid, who by his 3rd season at age 21 became the youngest team captain in NHL history. He is now the longest serving captain ever. In his rookie season, he scored 39 goals and 48 assists, and hit the legendary 50 goal plateau in his fifth season. In his sixth season, during Gretzky's heyday, he scored 65 goals and 90 assists. Currently, Yzerman is the 7th highest scorer in NHL history.

But despite Yzerman's offensive prowess, the Wings were terrible ... until things started turning around in 1986 when they hired a coach (Jacques Demers) who emphasized team defense. They gained respectability by doing well in the playoffs, especially against the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. They had a couple good seasons in a row, a couple under .500 seasons, and then in 1993 the Wings hired Scotty Bowman as the team's coach.

Bowman, now the universally acknowledged greatest coach in the history of the NHL, convinced Yzerman that playing great defense was the key to winning championships. Yzerman stopped scoring at his previous pace, but became one of the NHL's best defensive forwards ... while still being very dangerous as a scorer. That commitment to defense led to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships starting in 1997, and then a third a couple years later. To this day, the Wings are still a powerhouse team.

Seeing this man win a championship, and joyously hoist the cup over his head after years of hard work, is easily my favorite moment in sports.

Mark Peters

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Football, baseball, hockey, tennis. . . . yawn!

The real action was at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. These games saw the debut of women's sabre (you know, swords). Anyway, Sada Jacobson became the first American woman ever to win a medal in any fencing event. The last time an American took a medal in fencing was a bronze medal in men's sabre for Peter Westbrook in '84. But, the bigger story is that of Mariel Zagunis. In an exciting to watch bout (for a fencer, at least), Zagunis defeated Xue Tan of China to bring home a gold medal. The first for an American since 1904 and the first gold for an American woman in any fencing event. An historic day for sure. Why choose any other sport when you can beat your opponent over the head with a weapon?

Allez!

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Currently it would have to be when Kazushi Sakuraba defeated Renzo Gracie in Pride-10-Return of the Warriors, Pride Fighting Championship. That battle conclusively demonstrated that at that time Kazushi Sakuraba was the greatest fighter alive on the planet. He won through his usual mix of cunning strategy and skillful deception.

My potential favorite (haven’t seen the whole fight yet) however is when Royce Gracie beat the colossal Dan Severn in the Ultimate Fighting Championship after being pummeled by the much larger opponent for 15 minutes straight.

A close second (also potential) would have to be when Kazushi Sakuraba defeated Royce Gracie in a match that clocked in at around an hour and a half; the longest no-holds-barred fight of the modern era.

(the longest one period was a three hour match between Helio Gracie and a friend he had a “falling-out” with, the match ended when Helio passed out from exhaustion: it would have been great to watch just to admire the intense inner-strength that man possessed)

For anyone seeking a beautiful and exciting individual sport to appreciate I strongly recommend watching the Pride Fighting Championships, Pride FC for short, the premiere mixed martial-arts competition in the world.

And no, this is not “wrasslin”

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I have two candidates:

(1) This is football from long before I was born: November 1, 1913. Some nobodies from an obscure school in Indiana called the University of Notre Dame travelled to West Point to take on the heavily favored Cadets. They beat Army after having perfected a tactic known as the forward pass.

But that -- and the fact that I am a Notre Dame alumnus -- are not why I like this game.

In the game against Tufts immediately before this confrontation, a young Army linebacker sustained a football career ending knee injury. He could only watch from the sidelines as Notre Dame quarterback Gus Dorais and his favorite receiver Knute Rockne marched on to victory. His name was Dwight David Eisenhower.

Sorry, but I just have a soft spot for historical conjunctions.

(2) The Rumble in the Jungle

In 1974, an aging and underdog Muhammed Ali was to take on George Foreman to regain the world heavyweight boxing title. Forget the clown you see in George Foreman today, in '74 the man was downright scary!

My sum knowlegde of this fight comes from an excellent documentary called When We Were Kings .

Fair warning, if you see this you'll have to wade through a lot of lousy 1960's race politics. But in the end it's worth it. Not because you see Muhammed Ali box his way to victory, but because you see him think his way to victory.

As a footnote, I admire the guy who made this documentary because he flew to Zaire with his own limited money and then spent sixteen years editing his project, working "day jobs" to save up money for the costs!

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(2) The Rumble in the Jungle

Ali has always been a hero to me. It began when I was about 11 - I knew nothing of his politics, just his boxing. I admired him as a great heavyweight, and as a man who backed up his talk with ability. When I learned that he had refused the draft, I believed he had done the right thing (though, at the time, for the wrong reasons, and I now know his own reasons weren't the best either). I still admire his achievments in the ring - I care only about his boxing, and in that arena no other can compare.

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Ali has always been a hero to me. It began when I was about 11 - I knew nothing of his politics, just his boxing. I admired him as a great heavyweight, and as a man who backed up his talk with ability. When I learned that he had refused the draft, I believed he had done the right thing (though, at the time, for the wrong reasons, and I now know his own reasons weren't the best either). I still admire his achievments in the ring - I care only about his boxing, and in that arena no other can compare.

I'm not a boxing fan, but I always watched Ali fight. Sorry for the cliché, but he was poetry in motion--beautiful to watch. In his youth, he made everyone else look like clodhoppers.

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Tiger - Augusta - 1997.

Absolutely, a truely dominant performance.

His chip in on the 16th at Augusta this year was also pretty special. :D

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Lots of great moments captured here, from the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, to Elway, to Ali.

I don't know if I can top them, especially given the overbearing steroid accusations, but the home run race between McGwire and Sosa in 1998 was flat out fun and when I saw McGwire on that last day of the season hit a home run out of the park, I thought *69*! I was awestruck. But, then on a subsequent plate appearance he does the unthinkable and launches number *70*!!!

And that's when I felt the chill of goose bumps on my back. "Do you believe 70?" was the call by the announcer.

I'll never forget that!

And McGwire just pulverized the balls when he hit them. Against Atlanta that season, he crushed a ball to straight away center, into the upper deck, that got there in mere seconds. I mean, it was still rising and careened hard off of the facade way up high. I've never seen a ball hit that hard before.

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Regardless of my general lack of interest in baseball I really admire the fact that last year Randy Johnson became the oldest man to ever pitch a perfect game.

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Seeing "The Captain" hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time (in 1997) is my own personal favorite moment in sports.

. . .

But despite Yzerman's offensive prowess, the Wings were terrible ... until things started turning around in 1986 when they hired a coach (Jacques Demers) who emphasized team defense. They gained respectability by doing well in the playoffs, especially against the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. They had a couple good seasons in a row, a couple under .500 seasons, and then in 1993 the Wings hired Scotty Bowman as the team's coach.

Bowman, now the universally acknowledged greatest coach in the history of the NHL, convinced Yzerman that playing great defense was the key to winning championships. Yzerman stopped scoring at his previous pace, but became one of the NHL's best defensive forwards ... while still being very dangerous as a scorer. That commitment to defense led to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships starting in 1997, and then a third a couple years later. To this day, the Wings are still a powerhouse team.

Seeing this man win a championship, and joyously hoist the cup over his head after years of hard work, is easily my favorite moment in sports.

Mark Peters

That's one of my favorites also. But I think the Wings' turnaround started in 1989, when a young Russian named Fedorov joined the team . . .

My personal favorite sports moment was when an injured Kirk Gibson stepped in to pinch hit in the World Series for the Dodgers, against the Oakland A's, and hit a game-winning home run off of relief ace Dennis Eckersley.

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As for the Olympics, I also loved the US Hockey victory over the Soviets in 1980.

And the remarkable performances of Nadia Comenici, scoring perfect 10's in her gymnastic events.

And Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals in the swimming competitions.

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In 1974, an aging and underdog Muhammed Ali was to take on George Foreman to regain the world heavyweight boxing title. Forget the clown you see in George Foreman today, in '74 the man was downright scary!

My sum knowlegde of this fight comes from an excellent documentary called When We Were Kings .

I agree to that. This was a great documentary, and Ali was a superb boxer and athlete, in body and mind. I was very moved to see him light up the torch at the Olympics a few years ago.

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