40 years of heroes + villains

Balls, pucks and monster trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  August 11, 2010

Turning 40 this week spurred me to compile the greatest sports moments witnessed with my own eyes during (what I hope is) the first half of my life. The results were surprising. There's no better place to start than the Cumberland County Civic Center. MITCH "BULLDOG" WILSON was listed as a right wing when he played three seasons for the Maine Mariners, between 1983 and 1986, but his real position was goon. He had 918 penalty minutes in 208 games for the Mariners. Of course, Wilson was a fan favorite, and we'd pack into the Civic Center at every opportunity, because we knew that the Bulldog would go off on some poor bastard. During the early '80s, the Mariners had a particularly intense rivalry with the Adirondack Red Wings. I don't remember which Adirondack player Wilson had a grudge against, or why, but everyone knew Wilson was going to hammer the guy, and he did, the moment the game began. Wilson's gloves hit the ice before the opening puck did, and the guy he punched followed right behind. The best part was the PA announcement, as Wilson left the ice to thunderous cheers: "Mitch Wilson, game misconduct for fighting, one second into the first period." I thought that was the shit at age 13, and 27 years later, I still do.

Speaking of fighting, SIMMIE BLACK was a shady lightweight boxer from Little Rock, who took fights on a moment's notice, boxed under aliases to confuse authorities and, according to some, even impersonated deceased fighters to make small paydays. Black was a chump, which is reflected by his 35-163-4 record, amassed between 1971 and 1996 (those are just the fights fought under his real name). I probably saw him get his ass kicked at the New Daisy Theatre, on Beale Street, in Memphis, a couple dozen times in the early '90s. But then, one night in late 1996, Simmie knocked his opponent out. It was wonderful, like seeing the Washington Generals finally defeat the Globetrotters. But like the saying goes, all glory is fleeting. A couple months later, in 1997, Simmie raped an 11-year-old girl. He represented himself in court, was convicted, and received a 12-year prison sentence.

But the greatest sports moment of my life came during the 2003 AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES. The Sox were down two games in a five-game series with the Oakland Athletics, who were enjoying a record 10-game playoff winning streak against the Old Town Team. Tied at one run apiece in the 11th inning, Oakland's Rich Harden gave up a two-run walk-off homer to TROT NIXON. Never in my life have I experienced such pure joyful bliss with so many people. I hugged and kissed the girl sitting beside me, then did the same to her dad. A half hour after the game, 30,000 people were still in the stands, all screaming two words, over and over: TROT NIXON! In the following ALCS, during Game Seven, Grady Little left Pedro in to face Aaron Boone, and you know the rest. But that Nixon walk-off was as good as it gets, or at least, it's as good as it has been so far, for this sports fan.

HONORABLE MENTIONS Lustily booing BARRY BONDS at Fenway, in 2007, and then seeing him hit his 748th career home run, which put Bonds eight taters away from tying Hank Aaron's record. SANFORD HIGH SCHOOL (my alma mater) defeating Gardiner to win the state football title in 1998.

I guess I gravitate towards antiheroes and losers. Maybe the next four decades will be different, but I hope not.

Rick Wormwood can be reached atrickwormwood@gmail.com.

Related: The year ahead in sports, Busting Balls: 20 ways to improve sports, The cruelest month, More more >
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