The Bear

Courtesy of Drakelawfirm1

Courtesy of Drakelawfirm1

Think about the greatest college football coaches of all time. Many names come to mind—Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, John Heisman, Fielding Yost, Eddie Robinson, Robert Neyland, Knute Rockne, Wallace Wade, Bud Wilkinson, Tom Osborne, and Bobby Bowden. Arguably, the best of all coached at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M, and Alabama. They called him the Bear and he roamed the sidelines from 1945-1982. Paul W. Bryant compiled a record of 323-85-17, won 14 Southeastern Conference Championships, one Southwest Conference Championship and six national titles.

At the age of 14, Bryant wrestled a muzzled bear at the Fordyce Theater in his hometown of Fordyce, Arkansas. He did so purportedly to impress a girl and to make some money. While he may or may not have impressed the girl or made any money, Bryant received a nickname that stuck with him the rest of his life.

Bryant played football at Alabama from 1932-1935. The 1934 team finished the regular season 10-0, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and was voted national champion by several polls. His coaching career began as an assistant to Alabama coach Frank Thomas from 1936-1939. Before Alabama played California in the 1938 Rose Bowl, Bryant auditioned for some movie moguls in Hollywood. Bryant received a contract offer but turned it down when his wife, Mary Harmon, refused to move to Hollywood. This marked the only time Bryant considered a profession other than football.

Bryant left Tuscaloosa to coach one year under Vanderbilt coach Red Sanders in 1940. Vanderbilt upset Alabama 7-0 that year and Bryant received credit for the victory. Sanders, for reasons unknown, did not renew Bryant’s contract in 1941, but with the help of New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, a University of Arkansas athlete, Bryant became a leading candidate for the Arkansas head coaching position. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, Bryant enlisted in the United States Navy for the duration of World War II. While aboard the troop ship USS Uruguay in 1943, Bryant escaped death when his ship was rammed while sailing to North Africa. Over 200 soldiers and sailors died in the tragic episode.

Bryant had earned the title of Lieutenant Commander by the end of the war in 1945 and accepted the head coaching position at Maryland in the same year. He led the Terrapins to a 6-2-1 record with a team composed mainly from the Navy Pre-Flight group he coached in 1944. After a dispute with Maryland president Curly Byrd over the suspension of a player, Bryant took the helm of the Kentucky program. In the Bear’s first season, the Wildcats went from 2-8 to 7-3. His 1950 team went 11-1 (Tennessee, led by coach Robert Neyland, handed Kentucky its only loss. Bryant never beat Neyland in seven tries.); won the school’s only Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship; and defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, ending the Sooners’ 31 game winning streak.

Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A & M in 1953 after he asked for a release from his contract following the Kentucky president’s failure to fire or force the retirement of basketball coach Adolph Rupp, whose program became involved in a scandal that jolted Kentucky athletics (The NCAA and SEC suspended the Kentucky basketball program for the 1952-1953 season after evidence surfaced that some alumni had offered monetary inducements to recruits to play for Kentucky). The Kentucky president implemented new rules for the school’s athletic teams, including restricting the football team to five non-Kentucky recruits per year. Bryant knew he could not consistently win under these restrictions because the state produced a limited number of quality football players every year. He blamed Rupp for the president’s actions and moved on to College Station.  The Bear coached the Aggies from 1954 to 1957. His 1956 team compiled a 9-0-1 record, beat arch rival Texas in Austin for the first time ever, and won the Southwest Conference Championship.

However, Bryant left College Station for Tuscaloosa in 1958 with seven years left on his contract. Alabama had won only four games in the previous three years. When asked why he would leave a good situation at A & M for a poor one at Alabama, the Bear responded, “Mama called.” In 25 years as head coach of the Crimson Tide, Alabama won 232 games against only 46 losses, 13 SEC championships, and six national championships.

The Bear’s coaching philosophy was rather simple: one must pay the price to win—whether it was he, the players, the coaches, the managers, or the university presidents. Bryant pushed those around him hard but no harder than he pushed himself. Bryant’s fellow coaches respected his coaching ability. Jake Gaither, head coach at Florida A & M said, “He could take his’n and beat your’n, and take your’n and beat his’n.”

As Bryant approached the end of his coaching career, people frequently asked him when he would retire. The Bear’s usual response was, “Retire? Hell, I’d probably croak in a week!” Bryant coached his last game on December 29, 1982, a 21-15 Liberty Bowl win over Illinois. Forty-two days later, the Bear passed away from a heart attack at the age of 69.

The Bear left his mark on college football by building winners at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M, and Alabama. While many outstanding coaches have graced the sidelines over the years, only one could be called the Bear.

Florida State-Miami Football Rivalry

florida_state_university_interlocking_fs_logo-svg

university_of_miami_logo-svg

 

One of the greatest football rivalries in the nation takes place every year in Florida.  Both schools carry storied traditions, big-time players and championship coaches.  One school boasts Chief Osceola and Renegade, the war chant, and the proud nickname of the Seminoles.  The other has Ibis, the U, and the nickname Hurricanes.  One school proudly claims consensus All-Americans such as Fred Biletnikoff, Ron Simmons, Deon Sanders, Derrick Brooks, and Charlie Ward.  The other counters with such greats as George Mira, Ted Hendricks, Russell Maryland, Gino Torretta, and Ed Reed.  Coaching icons such as Bobby Bowden, Jimbo Fisher, Howard Schnellenberger, and Mark Richt all have roamed the sidelines during the rivalry.  When the Florida State University Seminoles and the University of Miami Hurricanes get together, you can throw out the records. These two teams do not particularly like one another and have played some of the most intense games in the history of college football. On numerous occasions, the outcome of the game ended the national title hopes of the loser while giving the winner an inside track to the title.  Florida State has won three national championships and 18 conference titles, including 15 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) crowns. Miami owns five national championships and nine Big East Conference titles.  Both schools currently reside in the ACC.

Miami leads the series 31-30, but Florida State has won the last seven games.  The two schools first met in 1951 (Miami won 35-13), four years after Florida State fielded it first football team.  For years Florida State had an all-female student body and men did not matriculate at FSU until 1946.  Florida State credits the Hurricanes with giving the fledgling Seminole program its first chance to compete against a legitimate, well-established program.  The University of Florida would not play FSU until 1958.  The Seminoles and Hurricanes squared off most years from 1951 through 1969, when the universities agreed to play every year.  FSU and Miami have battled as members of the ACC every year since 2004. Miami has won seven games that were decided by one point while the Seminoles eeked out last year’s game 20-19.  As you might imagine, these teams have had some very memorable affairs.  Let’s take a look at some of them.

  1. 1987 Miami 26-25

Number 4 Florida State led Number 3 Miami 19-3 late in the third quarter when the Hurricanes began their comeback.  Miami quarterback Steve Walsh hit Melvin Bratton for one touchdown and Michael Irvin for two, including a 73-yarder that gave Miami a 26-19 lead with just over two minutes to play.  The Seminoles marched down the field to score a late touchdown but Bobby Bowden’s decision to go for two cost FSU the game.  Bowden’s decision to go for the win instead of a tie was a gutsy call–overtime in college football did not begin until 1996.

 

  1. 1989 Florida State 24-10

College football experts believed the Hurricanes were destined to win the national championship that year.  UM did but not before losing to a two-loss FSU team in Tallahassee for the first time in ten years.  The Gino Torretta-led Miami offense turned the ball over six times and committed 11 penalties.  To this day in the Seminole record book under “Most Penalty First Downs in a Game” Miami’s 13 total penalties leads the category.

  1. 1991 Miami 17-16

In the first of the Wide Right games, FSU led Miami 16-7 in the fourth quarter.  Miami battled back to take a 17-16 lead with 3:01 left in the game behind a Carlos Huerta field goal and a Larry Jones touchdown run.  FSU marched down to the UM 17-yard line and with 29 seconds left Seminole kicker Gerry Thomas came on to attempt the go-ahead 34-yard field goal.  He had already made kicks from 25, 31 and 20 yards.  The kick sailed wide right by the length of a football.  Interestingly, before the 1991 season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) reduced the distance between the uprights by four feet, 10 inches.

  1. 1992 Miami 19-16

The second installment of Wide Right took place in this game.  FSU entered Number 3 in the nation while Miami stood at Number 2.  Behind future Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward of FSU and Torretta, the game stood at 16-10 with nine minutes left.  Torretta then led UM to the go ahead score, 17-16.  The Hurricane defense would add a safety to make the count 19-16.  After the FSU defense held, Ward led the Seminoles down the field in the closing seconds.  Bowden sent Dan Mowery into the game to attempt a final play field goal that would tie the game.  Just like the year before, the FSU kicker missed the field goal, from 39 yards this time, wide right.

  1. 1993 Florida State 28-10

Number 3 Miami entered this contest with a 31-game regular season win streak, and Number 1 FSU would win the national championship this season.  The game was never in doubt.  The Seminoles led 21-7 at the half and put the game away when FSU safety Devin Bush picked off a Frank Costa pass and returned it for a touchdown.

  1. 2000 Miami 27-24

This is the final Wide Right game.  Miami was coming off NCAA probation for rules violations but had its most potent team in years.  FSU owned a five-game winning streak against the Hurricanes but trailed 17-0 at halftime.  However, FSU quarterback Chris Weinke rallied the Seminoles to cut Miami’s lead to 20-17 with 3:15 to go in the game.  After a Miami fumble, Weinke led FSU down the field and hit Atrews Bell with a29-yard strike to give the Seminoles a brief 24-20 lead.  Not to be denied, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey marched the Hurricanes back the other way and completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 46 seconds to go for the final margin.  FSU took the ensuing kickoff and Weinke led his team down to the Miami 32-yard line for a field goal that would tie the game and send it to overtime.  FSU kicker Matt Munyon kicked it well but the ball sailed wide right as the final horn sounded.

  1. 2005 Florida State 10-7

Experiencing a small measure of revenge, the Seminoles won this game on a Miami kicking miscue.  The Hurricanes worked their way down the field in the fourth quarter to set up a 28-yard field goal that would tie the game.  With just under three minutes to play the Hurricanes set up for the kick, but holder Brian Monroe mishandled the snap.  The kick was never made and the Seminoles held on for the victory.

 

Florida State and Miami are two of college football’s elite programs.  They own eight national championships and 27 conference titles between them.  When the two meet, fierce battles often ensue that are decided by the slimmest of margins.  Add in the traditions of Osceola, Renegade, the war chant, Ibis and the U, and you have all the ingredients that make this one of college football’s greatest rivalries.

 

God Bless Mother Gammon

Imagine having no college football games to attend in the fall. In the South, that would mean the Apocalypse had occurred. Southern college football almost came to end after the Georgia-Virginia game in Atlanta on October 3, 1897. If not for the love of a mother for her son, Southern people would have other activities planned for fall Saturdays.

Von Gammon played fullback and linebacker for Georgia and Coach Charles McCarthy during the 1897 season. The very athletic Gammon had also starred at quarterback the previous two seasons under legendary coach Pop Warner. During the middle of the second half of the Virginia game, the Cavaliers called a play that sent a mass of blockers and a ball carrier to the right side of the line. Gammon dove under the blockers to tackle the ball carrier. He could not get up after the play. Coach McCarthy and Captain Billy Kent carried Gammon to the bench, where he lost consciousness. He died in a hospital later that night.

Shock and disgust resonated throughout the South upon news of Gammon’s death.  For most Southern schools football had existed for less than five years, but injuries had occurred so frequently that even before Gammon’s death many influential Southern college administrators and politicians believed the violent sport should be abolished. With Gammon’s death, the sport’s fate seemed assured.

In a lopsided decision (the House result was 91 to 3 and the Senate vote 31 to 4), the Georgia Legislature voted to abolish college football soon after Gammon’s death. If Governor W. Y. Atkinson signed the bill, more Southern states would surely follow.

Rosalind Gammon, Von’s mother, loved football because Von had loved football. She wrote letters to the Georgia Legislature and to Atkinson pleading for the continuation of the game. Her letters did not persuade the Legislature to change its position but the letter to Atkinson struck a chord with the governor. This passage from Ms. Gammon’s letter to Atkinson persuaded the governor to veto the bill:

“You are confronted with the proposition whether the game is of such character as should
be prohibited by law in the interest of society. To this I answer, it unquestionably is not.
In the first place the conditions necessary to its highest development are total abstinence
from intoxicating and stimulating drink—alcoholic and otherwise—as well from
cigarettes and tobacco of any form; strict regard for proper and healthiest diet and for all
of the laws of health; persistent regularity in the hours of going to bed and absolute
purity of life.”

The governor’s veto saved football in Georgia and throughout the South. Indeed, mothers know best, and Southern football fans owe Mother Gammon many thanks for the existence of fall’s favorite pastime.

Short History of East Lake Golf Club

Courtesy of CEM0030

Courtesy of CEM0030

The East Lake Golf Club has a long and rich history.  As with any venue over 100 years old, it has witnessed the good and the bad.  With 30 of the world’s best golfers currently playing at the club and golf fans everywhere focused on East Lake, a captive audience awaits its tale.

The Atlanta Athletic Club bought almost 200 acres of land in 1904 around East Lake, a body of water surrounded by a forest. The property was to the east and south of the town of Decatur, about five miles east of Atlanta. Tom Bendelow designed the East Lake course. The first nine holes were completed by 1906 and the last nine in 1907.  In 1908, Bendelow created the “No. 2” course at East Lake.

World-renowned golf course designer Donald Ross re-designed East Lake in 1913.  His design called for the front and back nine holes to end at the clubhouse. Unfortunately, this same clubhouse fell to a fire in 1925, and soon after, Atlanta architect Philip Shutze constructed the present day two-story Tudor style building. Shutze’s East Lake clubhouse is one of several of his projects listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.  Other Atlanta works include the Swan House, The Temple, the Albert E. Thornton House, and the Citizen’s and Southern Bank Building.

While the course and clubhouse remain icons of golf, East Lake may be better known for its association with legendary golfer Bobby Jones.  Robert P. Jones, Bobby’s father, was a club member from its inception.   Bobby learned and developed his game on the East Lake course under the tutelage of the club pro, Stewart Maiden. At the age of 11, Jones carded an 80 at East Lake. With his game honed on the East Lake course, Jones would enjoy an illustrious career as an amateur, including winning the Grand Slam of golf in 1930 (United States Amateur, United States Open, British Amateur, and British Open). Jones served as president of East Lake from 1946-47 and some of his golf memorabilia can be found today in the clubhouse.

East Lake hosted the Ryder Cup in 1963, and Arnold Palmer played and captained the winning United States team. Unfortunately, this event became one of the last pleasant memories until the early 1990s. The surrounding neighborhood in the 1960s fell into disrepair prompting the Atlanta Athletic Club to sell the No. 2 course and move to its current site in Duluth, GA.  In 1968,  a group of 25 East Lake members purchased the original course and clubhouse and created the East Lake Country Club.

The 1970s witnessed the construction of a public housing project on the site of the No. 2 course.  Poverty, drugs, and violence surrounded the golf club through the 1980s.

However, in 1993, a local charitable foundation purchased East Lake with the intent of restoring it as a tribute to Bobby Jones and the club’s other great amateur golfers, such as Charlies Yates.  Around this time the East Lake Foundation emerged to aid in the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods. In 1994, golf architect Rees Jones restored Donald Ross’ original design to give East Lake its current appearance and soon after, the East Lake Country Club became the East Lake Golf Club.  Jones also re-designed the No.2 course, which opened as the Charlie Yates Golf Course in 1998.

Today, all of the profits from the East Lake Golf Club go to the East Lake Foundation. The Foundation aids in the support of the health, education, safety, and productivity of the East Lake neighborhood.

One of the biggest supporters of the East Lake Foundation is the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola, which is the finale of the Professional Golf Association’s playoffs and the pursuit of the FedEx Cup (winner receives $10 million). The Tour Championship first came to East Lake in 1998 and rotated with Champions Golf Club of Houston until 2004 when East Lake became the permanent home of the Tour Championship.

Besides the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, East Lake has hosted six Southern Amateur tournaments, three Southern Opens, one Western Junior tournament, one U.S. Amateur tournament, and one U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament.

East Lake Golf Club honors the golfing greats of the past, present, and future while giving back to the surrounding community. It is a place revered by people across the globe but certainly no more so than those living a short lob shot away.  Tradition and charity combine to form one of golf’s greatest venues!

The Origins of the Southeastern Conference

1921VandyFootballteam

Utter the words “Southeastern Conference” during football season and your listeners will envision national championships, top ten rankings, and lucrative television contracts. Today the term is synonymous with the madness that is college football in the South. But in truth, the phrase was not always so meaningful.  The Southeastern Conference (SEC) was not always known by this name.

As college football took hold at schools across the country, southern school officials began to realize that an affiliation with similar institutions would make sense from an economic and geographic perspective. Southern football’s first game took place in 1881 as Kentucky State (now known as the University of Kentucky) beat Kentucky University (now known as Transylvania University) 7.5 to 1.  By 1892, the birth of southern football began in earnest.  Teams from Alabama, A & M College of Alabama (Auburn), Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt were playing.  LSU began its proud football history in 1893, Arkansas and Texas A & M in 1894, Mississippi A & M (Mississippi State) in 1895, and Florida in 1906.

Dr. William Dudley, a chemistry professor at Vanderbilt, answered the call for an affiliation of southern schools.  Representatives from seven schools—Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee, and Vanderbilt—met Dudley on December 22, 1894 at the Kimball House in Atlanta to form the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA), the grandfather of the SEC.  The SIAA was formed, according to Dr. Dudley, to provide faculty regulation and control of all college athletics.  A year later, 12 more schools were added, including Clemson, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas, and Tulane.

The SIAA held together through the 1920 season.  At the annual conference on December 10, 1920, a disagreement among the schools took place.  The smaller SIAA schools, through their collective vote, passed a rule allowing freshmen players to compete immediately with the varsity and voted down a proposition to abolish a rule that allowed athletes to play summer baseball for money.  Additionally, the SIAA had reached 30 members making it very difficult for the schools to play one another and crown a true champion.  Led by University of Georgia English professor Dr. S.V. Sanford, 18 schools left to form the Southern Intercollegiate Conference (Southern Conference) on February 25, 1921 in Atlanta.  At that point, the SIAA became a conference for small colleges and eventually disbanded in 1942.

The Southern Conference grew to 23 schools by 1932.  Again, the league was too big.  Dr. Sanford convinced the 13 schools west and south of the Appalachian Mountains—Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU,  Mississippi, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane, Vanderbilt–to reorganize as the Southeastern Conference.  Play began in 1933.  By December 1953, eight other schools—Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest—had left the Southern Conference to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Southern Conference survives to this day.

Sewanee resigned from the SEC in 1940, Georgia Tech in 1964, and Tulane in 1965.  Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC in 1990, and Missouri and Texas A & M joined in 2012.

From its SIAA infancy in 1894 to its full maturation in 2012, the SEC has been a force in college football.  The league boasts eight out of the last eleven national champions, landed the largest television contracts (CBS and ESPN) in the history of college football in 2008, and launched its own network in 2014.  The South has indeed risen again.

 

 

 

 

Atlanta Professional Soccer: Who Knew?

Sports historians date a form of the game of soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, to China about 2,000 years ago.  The first recorded sighting of the game in Atlanta came in 1912 when amateur players gathered at Piedmont Park to play.  Leagues began to form in the 1920s and 1930s and Emory University started the first collegiate program in 1958. The game remained secondary to other sports until 1966.  During that year the World Cup in England sparked worldwide interest in soccer and professional sports finally came to Atlanta with the inaugural seasons of the Braves and Falcons.  In fact, Braves Vice President Dick Cecil led the charge to bring a team to Atlanta Stadium because of the hope of additional revenue that the game could produce.   Cecil, with the blessing of other Braves owners, purchased a team to begin play in 1967 during the initial season of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). The seeds of professional soccer in Atlanta were planted at this point.

One of Cecil’s first hires proved to be a home run when Phil Woosnam took over as general manager and coach.  Woosnam had played the game at the highest levels with English powers West Ham and Aston Villa.  With that pedigree, Woosnam knew the type of athlete he wanted in Atlanta and with the help and resources of Cecil, the two scoured Europe, Africa and the Caribbean to sign players for the new team, which took the name “Chiefs” because of its affiliation with the Braves.  After player tryouts at Emory, the Chiefs’ training facility, Woosnam settled on the final roster for the season.  The Chiefs finished with a 9-10-12 record and finished fourth in the East Division.  Attendance for the first year was almost 7,000 a game.  After the 1967 season the NPSL merged with the United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Arguably, the pinnacle of professional soccer in Atlanta came in 1968.  The Chiefs began play in March and battled into September, finishing the regular season with an 18-6-7 record. The club then dispatched Cleveland and San Diego in the playoffs to claim the NASL championship. Yes, the Chiefs won the city’s first professional sports championship.

However, three brushes with international royalty may have been more exciting than the league championship.  First, the English Premier League champion Manchester City came to Atlanta Stadium in May.  Before more than 23,000 fans, the Chiefs shocked Manchester City and the world by winning 3-2.  Angry and embarrassed, Manchester players and management demanded a rematch.  A month later, the two teams met again before almost 26,000 patrons.  Proving the first outcome was no fluke, the Chiefs beat the lordly English team once again, 2-1.  All the English players could offer as an excuse after their second defeat was the Atlanta heat.

Emboldened by their European conquests, the Chiefs convinced the Santos Football Club of Brazil to play a match at the end of August.  Santos had a young star on the team by the name of Pele.  Before almost 27,000 delirious soccer nuts, Pele and Santos put on a show.  Behind the superstar’s three goals, Santos brought the Chiefs back to earth with a resounding 6-2 thrashing of the home team.  Still, the 1968 Chiefs finished 2 and 1 in international contests and won their league championship.  Unfortunately, the club could not sustain the momentum.

The Chiefs played before modest crowds of 3,000 to 5,000 fans from 1969 through 1972 and could not secure another championship.  At the end of the ’72season, Tom Cousins and the Hawks’ ownership bought the team. The Chiefs became the Atlanta Apollos and played at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus for the 1973 season.  After one season, the franchise folded.  Yet, the Chiefs would re-emerge behind Ted Turner.

Turner purchased the Atlanta Braves in 1976 and Dick Cecil remained with the organization.  NASL began a comeback in the late 1970s when the New York Cosmos lured such international stars as Pele to compete for the team.  Turner and Cecil purchased NASL’s Colorado Caribous in August 1978 and the new team, renamed the Chiefs, began play in Atlanta Stadium during the 1979 season.  The team struggled on the field and with attendance through 1981, when the franchise folded.  The Chiefs also participated in NASL’s winter indoor league during the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons in the Omni.  Attendance for the indoor games was better than the league average but the combined revenue for the indoor and outdoor seasons could not save the team.

Professional soccer in Atlanta witnessed an array of teams dribble in and out of the city over the next 35 years.  The Georgia Generals played one season in 1982 before folding.  Seven years later, the Atlanta Attack played in an indoor league from 1989-1991 before moving to Kansas City.  From 1991-1996, the Atlanta Magic played indoors with the United States Indoor Soccer League and won three championships.  The team also participated three seasons in the league’s outdoor version. Keeping with Atlanta soccer tradition, the Magic folded after the 1995-96 indoor season.

The Atlanta Ruckus began play in the outdoor American Professional Soccer League (APSL) in 1995.  The APSL renamed itself the A-League in 1996 and the league took over operations of the Ruckus following that season.  In 1998, the team found new owners, who changed the team name to the Silverbacks in honor of Willie B., a silverback gorilla at the Atlanta Zoo.

The Silverbacks continued to play in the United Soccer League before moving to the new North American Soccer League for the 2010 season.  The team folded in 2016 but re-emerged as an entrant in the National Premier Soccer League for the 2017 season.

Women’s professional soccer waltzed into Atlanta in the form of the Atlanta Beat. They played in the Women’s United Soccer Association from 2001-03, before the league folded and again in the Women’s Professional Soccer league from 2009-11, before that league folded.

Even with professional teams coming and going, Atlanta has demonstrated a passion for soccer.  Atlanta boasts a diverse population of over 6.5 million people, many of whom are passionate about the game.  When soccer matches involving international teams came to the Georgia Dome in recent years, fans packed the building.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank realized the passion for soccer in Atlanta and purchased a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise for the city in 2014.  In its inaugural season in 2017, Atlanta United FC leads North America’s highest ranked professional league in attendance.

Will the passion for Atlanta United continue as the seasons accumulate or will the franchise fade away into oblivion like so many of its Atlanta predecessors?  As Dick Cecil stated in 2013, “Atlanta is a big-event town.  They like the big event, they like to see winners…It (Atlanta United) will be successful at first. But you have to work it (to maintain the market share).”

From its auspicious start in 1968 with the Chiefs through the Dark Ages of the 1970s-2000s to the Renaissance with Atlanta United, professional soccer in Atlanta has survived.  The bet here is that professional soccer will thrive and flourish in this diverse city for years to come.  A-T-L!  A-T-L! A-T-L!

 

 

1995 Atlanta Braves: World Series Game 6

250px-Atlanta_Braves_Insignia.svg

 

The Braves had Friday, October 27, off before facing the Indians in Game 6 the next day.  Instead of a quiet off day preparing for Game 6, the Braves players and management faced a firestorm ignited by David Justice.  While waiting to take batting practice, Justice told reporters that Atlanta’s fans were not very passionate and would probably boo the team if it trailed Cleveland the next night.  He exacerbated the situation when he suggested that other Braves players felt the same way and that they were playing the Series for themselves, not the Braves fans.  With this information in the Saturday Atlanta Journal-Constitution, many Braves fans came to Game 6 at Atlanta-Fulton Stadium ready to reply in some fashion to Justice’s comments.

Justice’s comments were not foremost in Tom Glavine’s, the Game 6 starting pitcher, thoughts.  As he rode with Greg Maddux back to their North Atlanta subdivision after Friday’s work out, the topic of conversation focused on the game.  Glavine recounted Leo Mazzone’s remarks from Steve Avery that the Indians could not hit his change-up and never made adjustments in Game 4.  Glavine asked Maddux what adjustment the Indians made against him in Game 5.  Maddux told Glavine that the Indians had not made any adjustments and the reason the Indians won the game was because he could not consistently locate his pitches.  Maddux told Glavine not to change anything and that he would beat the Indians.  Maddux added that “the guy who should be the winning pitcher when the Atlanta Braves win the championship will be out there.” (Glavine, 1996, p. 11) Glavine stated that those comments afforded him a large dose of confidence.

On game day, Glavine arrived at the stadium around 2:30 and began to dress at his locker.  Being a bit superstitious Glavine had several items in his locker that had not moved since he put them there in 1991—a Bart Simpson doll (Glavine enjoys his humor), a four-leaf clover pressed in waxed paper, and a trophy (he always liked the look of trophies). According to Glavine, his other superstitions included chewing a piece of Bazooka sugarless bubble gum every time he pitched (he also kept an extra piece in his back left-hand pocket) and never stepping on the foul lines when taking the field.

As the clock moved closer to game time, the Braves confidently warmed up on the field. Glavine claimed that his throwing session in the bullpen before the game was nothing special and had no idea how effective his pitches would be during the game.  Mazzone told him that his pitches looked good, but that did not satisfy Glavine.  Glavine remembered prior bullpen sessions when he thought they went terribly but he pitched shutouts and other sessions when he thought he was primed for a great game only to be hit unmercifully.  He was certain of one thing:  this bullpen session was better than Game 2’s session.

Glavine took the mound and began his pregame ritual of re-adjusting the dirt to find his comfort spot for his plant foot.  While working the mound, he looked up in the stands and sensed the crowd’s excitement.  Glavine quickly mused that Justice’s comments may have indeed had an effect on the fans’ collective level of passion.  As he toed the rubber for the first pitch, he told himself to establish a good rhythm and get out of the first inning, something that had been a problem for him in his career.  Glavine began almost immediately to locate his change-up and induced Kenny Lofton to fly out to right field.  With the pesky Lofton off the bases, Glavine relaxed and began to settle in.  He proceeded to strike out Omar Vizquel and got Carlos Baerga to hit an easy ground ball to him that would end the inning.  Glavine had not only achieved his goal of getting through the first inning unscathed but looked masterful in doing so.  The Indians were in trouble.

After the first two innings, the Cleveland hitters began to move up in the batter’s box and on top of home plate.  Glavine mentioned this to Mazzone and suggested that he should start pitching inside to the hitters.  Mazzone countered.  The veteran pitching coach told Glavine that when the hitter moves up in the box or on top of the plate that does not change his vision.  He said to Glavine that he could pitch inside or that he could pitch farther and farther off of the plate to see if the hitters would continue to adjust to that.  Mazzone reasoned that if Glavine threw the ball six to eight inches off the plate and the hitters made solid contact then Glavine would have to pitch inside to keep the down and away pitch as a viable option.

Glavine decided to make pitches farther and farther outside.  The Cleveland hitters adjusted accordingly but still couldn’t hit Glavine.  The majority of the hitters could only get the end of the bat on the ball, which resulted in easy outs.  Mazzone counted a dozen times that Glavine went inside during the course of the game.  Glavine’s ability to change speeds with his pitches and locate them where he wanted made him almost unhittable.  After walking into the dugout after an inning in the middle of the game Glavine had this outburst, “Will somebody please score a damned run?  Because they’re not.” (Freeman 2003, p. 79).  Through five innings, the Indians did not have a hit.

The Braves had good opportunities to push across a run or more in the fourth and fifth innings against Cleveland starter Dennis Martinez.  Atlanta had the bases loaded in the fourth with two outs but Rafael Belliard flied out to center field to end the inning.  In the fifth, the Braves had runners at first and second with two outs when Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove replaced Martinez with Jim Poole in order to face Fred McGriff.  Poole struck out McGriff to close out the inning.

In the sixth inning, Glavine gave up his only hit, a leadoff single to Tony Pena, but kept Cleveland from scoring.  David Justice led off the bottom of the sixth to a chorus of boos.  In two previous at bats Justice had walked and doubled, certainly doing his part to put the Braves on the scoreboard and mitigate the fan animosity he caused because of his comments the previous day.

On a 1-1 count, Justice launched Poole’s third pitch into the right field seats to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead. Pandemonium erupted in the stands as Justice circled the bases, and at least for the moment, Justice and the fans had a love affair that rivaled that of Antony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall… well, you get the picture.

The Braves had secured that “damned” run for Glavine, and he rewarded them with two more shutout innings.  After pitching through the eighth inning, Glavine walked back to the dugout, pulled Mazzone and Bobby Cox aside, and told them he was done.  Cox decided to send out closer Mark Wohlers to pitch the ninth inning.  Lofton led off the inning and Cox and Mazzone were nervous.  They knew that if Lofton reached first base, the Braves were in trouble because Wohlers could not hold runners on base.  Lofton could easily steal second and/or third. The Braves had tried to change Wohler’s delivery in the past, but that only hindered his ability to throw strikes.  Cox and Mazzone just hoped Wohlers could get Lofton out some way.  On a 0-1 pitch, Lofton fouled out to Belliard in foul territory down the third base line.  Mazzone stated that at that point, he knew the Braves were going to win the game and the World Series.  Sure enough, as if on cue, Wohlers induced Paul Sorrento and Carlos Baerga to fly out to center fielder Marquis Grissom.  Venerable Braves broadcaster Skip Caray put it best, “Mark gets the sign.  The wind and the pitch, here it is…Swung, fly ball, deep left-center.  Grissom on the run… Yes! Yes! Yes! The Atlanta Braves have given you a championship!”

And so they did.  Amid fans hugging other fans, Ted Turner kissing Jane Fonda, and general ecstasy throughout, the players piled on one another near the mound.  After three World Series attempts, the Braves had achieved something that no other major sports franchise had ever done in Atlanta (and hasn’t done since)—they won a championship.

After the last out, Mazzone remained in the dugout, taking it all in.  He didn’t scream. He didn’t holler. He didn’t burst out in song. He didn’t rock.  He just sat there in quiet satisfaction. Later in the clubhouse, with a champagne bottle in hand, a reporter asked Mazzone about his pitching staff:  “I’m just so proud I could start crying right here and now.” (Rosenberg 1995, p. 159)  Many of the Braves fans in Atlanta and across the country did just that—cried.  So many years of bad baseball.  Close calls against Minnesota and Toronto.  Pent up frustration.  All washed away in the glory of a World Series title.

Two days later, thousands of fans lined Peachtree Street to honor their heroes.  Players and coaches rode on firetrucks in a parade that had been 30 years in the making.

The Atlanta Braves…World Series Champions!  Oh, but to hear those words again!

 

Freeman, Scott and Mazzone, Leo. Tales from the Braves Mound. Sports Publishing L.L.C., 2003.

Glavine, Tom and Cafardo, Nick. None but the Braves. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, www.sportspublishingllc.com, 1996.

Rosenberg, I.J. Bravo! The Inside Story of the Atlanta Braves’ 1995 World Series Championship. Marietta, GA: Longstreet Press, 1995.

1995 Atlanta Braves: World Series Games 3, 4 and 5

250px-Atlanta_Braves_Insignia.svg

After two close games in Atlanta, the Series shifted to Cleveland for the next three games.  Ever the antagonizer, Kenny Lofton stated that the Indians would have won the first two games if they were played in Cleveland because of the passionate Cleveland fans.  The fact of the matter is that the Braves pitchers had held the potent Cleveland offense to a .096 batting average through the first two games.

Game 3 matched John Smoltz against Charles Nagy.  The temperature at game time was a brisk 49 degrees with a wind chill factor of 29 degrees.  A 25-mph wind came blowing into Jacobs Field off of Lake Erie.  Leo Mazzone and the other Braves on the bench sat bundled up in Braves jackets and gloves.  Atlanta scored in the top of the first on an RBI single from Fred McGriff, but this was not to be Atlanta’s night.  Cleveland answered with two runs off of Smoltz in the bottom half of the inning then two in the bottom of the third to chase him.  Smoltz pitched 2.1 innings giving up four runs on six hits.  Mazzone sat on the bench stunned with no movement.  Dave Pursley glanced over at Mazzone several times during the inning and couldn’t believe Mazzone was so still.  Finally, he walked over to shake Mazzone to see if he was asleep from the cold or had passed on to the great ballpark in the sky.  Mazzone was okay, but the Braves knew their bats had to heat up quickly to stay in the game.  McGriff started the comeback with a home run in the top of the sixth to cut the deficit to two.  Ryan Klesko then launched a solo shot in the seventh to pull the Braves within one.  However, Cleveland answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning when Lofton scored on a Carlos Baerga single.

With Cleveland leading 5-3 in the eighth inning, Atlanta took the lead 6-5 on RBI singles from Luis Polonia and Mike Devereaux and one big Cleveland error.  However with the passionate Cleveland fans urging them on, the Indians tied the game in the bottom of the inning then won it in the bottom of the eleventh.  With Cleveland’s 7-6 victory, the Series stood at two games to one.   Bobby Cox had a tough decision to make for Game 4—bring back Maddux on short rest or start Steve Avery.  As the night wore on, people thought they heard Mazzone singing some version of “I Will Survive,” a song made famous by Gloria Gaynor.

Cox reasoned that he had four quality starters and wanted all of them to pitch with the proper amount of rest, so Cox decided on pitching Avery for Game 4.  Some members of the media questioned this decision because Cox would be without Maddux for a Game 7.  Yet, Avery closed out the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), 6-0, and he had a 4-2 record all-time in the postseason.  Tom Glavine thought Cox’s decision was a good one.  Glavine noted that Avery walked around the clubhouse in the postseason with a lot of confidence, was very focused, and seemed like the pitcher who shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1991 NLCS, earning Most Valuable Player for his two wins over the Pirates.

On another cold night in Cleveland, Avery took the mound against Ken Hill.  Through five innings neither team had lit the scoreboard.  Avery had only given up a pair of singles to the best hitting team in baseball.  Mazzone, again, seemed very subdued, rocking steadily at a controlled pace.  After a few innings Mazzone noticed that Avery was using the change-up down and outside as his main pitch, throwing twice as many change-ups as fastballs.  Normally, according to Mazzone, his pitchers would throw twice as many fastballs as off-speed pitches.  Between one of the early innings, Mazzone suggested that Avery throw more fastballs.  Avery responded that the Cleveland batters could not hit his change-up and weren’t making adjustments, so he told Mazzone he was going to continue to throw the hitters mainly change-ups.  Mazzone could not argue with Avery’s success, so he endorsed the strategy and went back to his controlled rocking.

Atlanta finally broke through in the top of the sixth inning on Klesko’s long home run to right field.  With a 1-0 lead, Avery gave up a tying shot to Albert Belle but finished the inning with no further damage.  Avery came out of the game after the sixth having allowed one earned run on three hits.  Atlanta rewarded Avery’s outstanding performance with three runs in the top of the seventh. Polonia doubled home Marquis Grissom with the go-ahead run and David Justice completed the rally with a single that drove in Polonia and Chipper Jones, who had been intentionally walked.

Cox brought in Greg McMichael to pitch the seventh and eighth innings, and he kept the Indians from adding to their run total.  The game remained 4-1 entering the ninth inning.  Fred McGriff opened the inning with a double and three batters later Javy Lopez drove him home with another double.  With a 5-1 lead, Cox turned to closer Mark Wohlers to finish the game.  Wohlers promptly gave up a leadoff home run to Manny Ramirez and a double to pinch hitter Paul Sorrento.  As Mazzone curled up in the fetal position on the bench, Cox brought in Pedro Borbon, Jr. to finish the game.  Borbon responded by striking out the next two batters and securing the third out on a Lofton line drive to Justice.  With the 5-2 win, the Braves now owned a 3-1 Series lead, and in the clubhouse, people clearly heard Mazzone belting out Tag Team’s song, “Whoomp! (There it is)” over and over and over again.

Game 5 matched the same pitchers as Game 1:  Maddux vs. Hershiser.  With their backs to the wall, the Indians came out swinging.  In the bottom of the first inning, Belle ripped a two-run homer over the right-field wall for a 2-0 Cleveland lead, but the Braves battled back.  Polonia, in the top of the fourth inning, sent a shot over the right-field wall to cut Atlanta’s deficit to 2-1, then in the fifth inning, Grissom drove in Klesko with an infield single to tie the game, 2-2.  However, the Indians countered with two runs in the bottom of the sixth on RBI singles from Jim Thome and Ramirez.  By this time, Mazzone had been singing Eric Clapton’s version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” while maintaining a steady rock.  Mazzone almost seemed melancholy.  Maddux lasted seven innings while giving up four earned runs on seven hits, certainly not numbers that one would normally expect from him.   Hershiser, on the other hand, pitched brilliantly, giving up two runs, one earned, on five hits through eight innings.  Thome homered off of Brad Clontz in the eighth to widen the lead to 5-2 and Klesko hit a two-out, two-run homer off of Jose Mesa to cut the deficit to one in the ninth.  Mesa struck out Mark Lemke to end the game and cut Atlanta’s Series lead to 3-2.  As the Braves players and coaches exited the dugout, Mazzone serenaded them with his version of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” replete with his imitation of the Pips’ moves.

With the Series shifting back to Atlanta, questions arose from fans and the media as to whether the Braves would finally win a World Series.  Before Game 6, controversy arose and the plot thickened!

1995 Atlanta Braves: World Series Games 1 and 2

250px-Atlanta_Braves_Insignia.svg

For Braves management, players, and fans, the third trip to the World Series in five years had to be the charm.  The Braves lost a hard fought Series to the Minnesota Twins in 1991 as the Twins won Game 7 in Minneapolis, 1-0 in ten innings.  Again in 1992, Atlanta battled the Blue Jays but lost four games to two.  Atlanta suffered four one-run losses.  This time, the potent pitching of the Braves faced off against the explosive offense of the Cleveland Indians.  Cleveland finished the regular season 100-44, winning their division by 30 games over the second place Kansas City Royals.  The Indians led the American League in batting, runs, base hits, and stolen bases.  They had eight .300 hitters in their starting lineup.  They swept the Boston Red Sox in their Divisional Series and beat the Seattle Mariners 4 games to 2 in their Championship Series.  However, the Cleveland Indians had never faced such a dominant pitching staff as that of the Atlanta Braves.  The old baseball adage of great pitching beats great hitting proved true once more.  The Braves won the first two games in Atlanta, but both were close.

The key to beating the Indians, according to Leo Mazzone, was to keep speedster Kenny Lofton off the bases.  Lofton hit .310 for the season, led the American League with 54 stolen bases, and scored 93 runs.  Clearly, Lofton was the catalyst for the Cleveland offense.

Greg Maddux took the mound for Game 1 against Cleveland ace Orel Hershiser.  In the top of the first Lofton led off the game with a ground ball to Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard who could not field it cleanly.  Lofton reached base safely and gave immediate credence to Mazzone’s comment.  Lofton stole second and third and scored the Indians’ first run on a Carlos Baerga ground out to short.  Cleveland led 1-0 without the benefit of a hit.  Mazzone could be seen in the dugout with his head in a trash can.  Fred McGriff evened the score in the bottom of the second with a long home run over the right center-field wall.  Some color quickly came back to Mazzone’s face.

The score remained knotted at one until the bottom of the seventh inning.  Hershiser walked McGriff and David Justice to start the inning.  Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove brought Paul Assenmacher in from the bullpen to replace Hershiser and he promptly walked Mike Devereaux.  Hargrove replaced Assenmacher with Julian Tavarez and Braves manager Bobby Cox countered by pinch hitting Luis Polonia for Charlie O’Brien.  Polonia hit into a fielder’s choice to short and McGriff scored from third to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.  Belliard followed with a perfect suicide squeeze bunt that drove in Justice for a 3-1 lead.  Cameras caught what looked like a quick smile from Mazzone.  A radar gun registered Mazzone’s rocking at close to 30 mph.  Trainer Dave Pursley desperately looked for some kind of restraint.

Leading 3-1 going to the bottom of the ninth inning, Cox chose to let Maddux finish the game.  He had thrown less than 90 pitches and had relinquished just two singles and the unearned run to Lofton.  Maddux induced Paul Sorrento to ground out to second before Lofton hit a hard single to left field.  At this point, Mazzone was overheard singing “Don’t Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation while teetering on the edge of the dugout bench.  The next Cleveland hitter, Omar Vizquel, grounded to second for the second out but Lofton raced to third and scored on a throwing error by McGriff.  With two outs and Mazzone muttering something unintelligible while rolling on the dugout floor, Maddux completed his 95-pitch gem by coaxing a foul out from Baerga.  The Braves took Game 1, 3-2.

Game 2 matched Tom Glavine against Dennis Martinez.  Glavine had not pitched in ten days and by his own admission was a little rusty.  In the top of the second inning Glavine gave up a lead off single to Albert Belle and then watched Eddie Murray crush his next pitch over the left field wall for a 2-0 Cleveland lead.   Mazzone’s rocking started slowly but hit another gear.  He began to slow down after the Braves tied the game in the bottom of the third inning.

In the third, Martinez hit Marquis Grissom and Mark Lemke followed with a line drive single to begin the inning.  Grissom reached third when Martinez threw the ball away trying to pick off Grissom at second.  Chipper Jones followed with a deep fly ball to left field that allowed Grissom to tag and score.  Two batters later, David Justice hit a soft fly ball to right center field that fell for a hit, enabling Lemke to score the tying run.  Glavine and Martinez kept the game tied until the bottom of the sixth.  Glavine escaped jams in the fourth and fifth innings that caused Mazzone to use a paper bag to stop hyperventilating.  Dave Pursley put Grady Hospital on notice.

Justice led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a single to left field but reached second base when Belle misplayed it.  Ryan Klesko then moved Justice to third base with a ground out to the right side of the infield.  With one out, Javy Lopez stepped to the plate.  In his book Behind the Plate: A Catcher’s View of the Braves Dynasty, (Triumph Books: Chicago, IL, 2012), Lopez stated that he desperately wanted to drive in Justice with the go ahead run but believed Martinez would walk him to set up the double play with light-hitting Belliard on deck.  According to Lopez, he was surprised when Martinez attacked him with good pitches to begin the at-bat.  Determined to get a hit, Lopez fouled off pitches that were outside of the strike zone.  With the count 1-2, Martinez threw a pitch outside, inches off the plate, and Lopez hit it hard to center field.  Lopez hoped for a double and was running hard.  However, he got more than a double.  The ball cleared the fence giving the Braves a 4-2 lead. Mazzone began rocking and singing a modified version of “Brick House’ by the Commodores.

Greg McMichael came in for Glavine in the top of the seventh inning and dispatched the first two Indians batters with relative ease.  Then Lofton came to bat.  He promptly singled to right field then stole second base.  On a fly ball from Omar Vizquel that Mike Devereaux misplayed in left field, Lofton scored to cut the Braves lead to one. Sirens could be heard approaching Atlanta-Fulton County stadium.   McMichael then walked Baerga and wild pitched both he and Vizquel up one base.  Paramedics were racing to the Braves dugout as Mazzone’s face seemed to change to something close to navy blue.  Alejandro Pena replaced McMichael.  Up stepped power-hitter Albert Belle.  On a 0-2 pitch, Pena induced Belle to hit a pop fly behind the plate that Lopez smothered to end the inning.  The color in Mazzone’s face returned to normal after taking something from the paradmedics.  While waiting for the Braves to come to bat, Mazzone turned to each paramedic sitting beside him and asked them what they thought the meaning of life was.

The Braves could not score in their half of the seventh and Pena trotted out to the mound to begin the eighth inning.  Pena got Murray to fly out to left but Manny Ramirez then singled on a fly ball that just eluded the Braves infielders.  Jim Thome strided to the plate for Cleveland and Mazzone seemed to be trying to catch imaginary butterflies as the paramedics looked on.  On a 3-2 count, Lopez picked off Ramirez at first for the second out. Pena then walked Thome before giving way to Mark Wohlers.  Wohlers coaxed Sorrento to fly out to Grissom for the final out of the inning, and Mazzone began to giggle uncontrollably.

The Braves went quietly in the bottom of the eight before Wohlers closed out the game in the ninth.  The Braves held on for a 4-3 win and a 2-0 lead in the Series.  After the game, people thought they heard Mazzone tell the paramedics that he loved them.  Now the Series would shift to frigid Cleveland for the next three game and tighten considerably!

 

 

The 1995 Atlanta Braves: National League Championship Series

250px-Atlanta_Braves_Insignia.svg

After vanquishing the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series, the Braves turned their attention to the Cincinnati Reds, who had just completed a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in their Division Series.  Atlanta took eight out of thirteen from the Reds during the regular season, but the Reds had speed on the base paths, which made Braves coaches very nervous because Cincinnati could turn a simple walk or single into a run by getting into scoring position with steals.  Reggie Sanders, Barry Larkin and former Brave Ron Gant could all hit and run.  Keeping the Reds off of the base paths would be the key to the series.  When asked by reporters how the Braves would handle the Reds’ speed, Leo Mazzone responded, “Well, you can’t steal first base.”  Making good pitches and executing the game plan, explained Mazzone, would keep the Reds off of the base paths.

In this best-of-seven series, the Braves played the first two games in Cincinnati.  Game 1 pitted Tom Glavine against Reds ace Pete Schourek, an 18-game winner.  After the Reds took the lead on a single by Ron Gant, Schourek held the Braves at bay until the ninth inning.  With the coaches downing their cache of antacid tablets, Chipper Jones led off the inning with a single and Fred McGriff followed with another single that moved Jones to third base.  David Justice then beat out a potential double play ball to shortstop that erased McGriff and scored Jones.  The Braves tied the game but could not take the lead in the inning.  The game remained 1-1 until the 11th.  Two August additions to the team, Luis Polonia and Mike Devereaux (named the NLCS Most Valuable Player), then proved their value.  McGriff led off with a walk before Polonia sacrificed him to second base.  After Javy Lopez grounded out to third, Devereaux hit a hard line drive single to center field to score McGriff with the eventual winning run.  Nursing a 2-1 lead, Brad Clontz entered the bottom half of the inning to pitch .  The Braves had already used closer Mark Wohlers in the 10th.  Clontz immediately gave up a lead off double to pinch hitter Thomas Howard and a new box of antacid tablets was brought from the locker room. Larkin then moved Howard to third with a ground out to second.  Bobby Cox countered by bringing in Steve Avery, normally a starting pitcher.  Avery proceeded to walk Mariano Duncan and Leo Mazzone almost rocked himself off of the dugout bench.  After Cox relieved Avery with Greg McMichael, the former Braves closer induced a double play grounder from Reggie Sanders to preserve the 2-1 victory.  Mazzone exhaled and popped a couple more antacid pills just to be safe.

John Smoltz took the mound for Game 2.  In the top of the first, Marquis Grissom singled to lead off the game and took second base on Mark Lemke’s ground out to first.  Chipper then singled to right field to score Grissom for a 1-0 lead.  The score remained steady until the fourth inning when Fred McGriff led off with a double and Mike Devereaux drove him in with a double of his own.  However, just as Mazzone started to relax, the Reds tied the game with two runs off of Smoltz in the bottom of the fifth inning. Similar to the first game, the second one produced free baseball.  With the score 2-2 in the top of the 10th, the Braves struck hard.  Lemke led off with a single. Chipper moved him to second with a ground out to the right side of the infield.  McGriff received an intentional walk before David Justice singled to load the bases.  With Ryan Klesko pinch hitting for Devereaux, Reds reliever Mark Portugal uncorked a wild pitch scoring Lemke with the go ahead run.  After Klesko popped out, Lopez unleashed a three-run bomb to deep left field to give the Braves a 6-2 lead.  With Braves coaches down to their last bottle of antacids, Mark Wohlers entered the bottom of the 10th.  After Wohlers gave up a leadoff single to Larkin, Mazzone rocked himself off of the bench then rolled under it.  However, Wohlers induced a ground out and two strike outs to secure the victory as Braves trainer Dave Pursley revived Mazzone.  Up two games to none, the series shifted to Atlanta.

With Greg Maddux on the mound for Game 3 and the Braves up 2-0 in the series, Mazzone and the other coaches seemed calm and confident.  However, as in the NLDS with the Rockies, ambulances from Grady Hospital were on alert.  Also, a new supply of antacid tablets arrived in the clubhouse the day before the game.  Maddux and Reds twirler David Wells kept the score 0-0 into the sixth inning.  Mazzone’s rocking pace on the bench had picked up considerably by that point. McGriff led off the bottom of the sixth with a double to right field.  Then Justice flied out and Devereaux walked.  Up strolled light-hitting catcher Charlie O’Brien.  With the count two balls and two strikes, O’Brien blasted Wells’ next pitch into the left field seats for a 3-0 Braves lead.  Mazzone wiped his brow and offered a barely detectable smile.  He became almost giddy after Chipper launched a two-run blast to left field in the bottom of the seventh to increase Atlanta’s lead to 5-0.  The Reds managed single runs off of Maddux in the eighth and Wohlers in the ninth, but the Braves prevailed 5-2.   Mazzone looked the picture of health as he exited the locker room knowing the Braves only needed one more win to finish off the Reds and go back to the World Series.

Cox picked Steve Avery to pitch Game 4 and all Avery did was shut out the Reds for six innings.  Atlanta took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third on a Lemke single that plated Rafael Belliard.  With Mazzone starting to grab his antacid tablets in the seventh, the Braves still nursed a 1-0 lead.  Cincinnati’s Schourek had allowed the only run of the game but was pitching on short rest, so Reds manager Davey Johnson sent out Michael Jackson (not the pop star, but I could be wrong based on the results) to pitch the seventh.  Grissom led off the inning with a triple to left center field.  After Lemke popped out and Jones walked, Grissom scored on a passed ball with McGriff at the plate.  Jackson then intentionally walked McGriff with first base open.  Up stepped Devereaux who deposited Jackson’s first pitch into the left field seats to give the Braves a 5-0 cushion.  Lopez followed with a double before Jackson intentionally walked Klesko.  After that Jackson Beat It back to the dugout while moon walking.  Dave Burba, Jackson’s replacement, induced a ground out from Belliard before Polonia singled to make the score 6-0.  Seconds later, Mazzone pulled a mirror from his back pocket, looked at The Man in the Mirror, liked what he saw, then began to rock ever so slowly.  Alejandro Pena and Wohlers shut out the Reds the rest of the way, and with the 6-0 shutout, the Braves could begin preparations for their third World Series in five years.  As Mazzone enjoyed an adult beverage after the game, a rumor emerged that a young woman gave him a quick kiss on the cheek to offer her congratulations.  Later, when asked her name, Mazzone wasn’t sure.  He thought he heard someone call her Billie Jean but another referred to her as Dirty Diana.  No matter, the NLCS was a Thriller (Sorry. I just couldn’t resist)!

The Braves became the first team to sweep an NLCS and they did so by executing Mazzone’s plan of keeping the Reds off of the base paths—the Reds managed only four steals, all in Game 2.  Braves pitchers shut down Cincinnati’s offense.  Reggie Sanders, for example, hit 28 home runs and drove in 99 runs during the regular season.  Sanders finished the series 2-16 with no RBIs and 10 strike outs.

The stakes would now be higher against the only team with a better record than the Braves.  The Cleveland Indians stood between Atlanta and the city’s first world title in any of the four major sports (baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey).  The 1995 World Series would become one of the most unforgettable events in the history of the city!