Today in Sports History: October 3rd

Ankiel_backstop_medium

(Ankiel's throw goes to the backstop)

10/03/1920 - First NFL game

On this day in 1920, the first ever NFL game took place, as the Dayton Triangles defeated the Columbus Panhandles, 14-0. Louis Partlow scores the league's first touchdown and George "Hobby" Kinderine connects on the first extra points. Later in the day, the Rock Island Independents crushed the Muncie Flyers, 45-0.

Back then, the league was known as the "American Professional Football Association" before becoming the "National Football League" in 1922. The league began with fourteen original franchises, among them: the Akron Pros, Buffalo All-Americans, Canton Bulldogs, Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Tigers, Cleveland Tigers, Decatur Staleys, Detroit Heralds, Hammond Pros, and Rochester Jeffersons, to go along with the Triangles, Panhandles, Independents, and Flyers.

Muncie only played one game in 1920 before folding the franchise. They then somehow managed to scrape together a new team, played two games in 1921, lost them both, and then folded for good. The Panhandles lasted for six seasons before ceasing operations and changing their name to the Columbus Tigers. The Cleveland Tigers later changed their name to the Cleveland Indians, while the Independents migrated to the first incarnation of an "American Football League" (there were three), which promptly folded after the season.

Only four teams would make it to the NFL-AFL merger of 1970: the Decatur Staleys became the Chicago Bears, the Akron Pros became the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Cardinals became the St. Louis Cardinals and later the Arizona Cardinals, and the Detroit Heralds became the Detroit Tigers (obviously a very popular nickname), then the Portsmouth Spartans, and finally the Detroit Lions.

10/03/1995 - The Juice is set loose

After an exhausting trial that took more than a year to complete, the fate of O.J. Simpson is decided by a California jury. Orenthal James Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of the Nichole Brown Simpson -- his ex-wife -- and her friend Ronald Goldman. It was estimated that 90% of adults in the United States watched coverage of the trial either live or later in the day, making it -- in terms of total viewers -- the most watched event in the history of the United States: 150 million people.

Although he was acquitted in a court of law, pretty much everybody believed that he had killed them; the white Ford Bronco car chase certainly didn't seem like the behavior of an innocent man, nor did the samples of his blood which were found at the scene. Nonetheless, O.J. insisted that justice had been served and promised to find the real murderer of his ex-wife. However, Simpson spent much of the following years on the golf course, leading people to mock his vow of vengeance against the supposed killer. After that, whenever a famous actor or celebrity was acquitted of a crime that they appeared to have committed, people would joke that "O.J. has a new golfing partner."

In 1997, Simpson was found liable of the deaths in a civil suit and was forced to pay the families the whopping total of $33.5 million. Thus began a long struggle where the Goldman and Brown families tried to seize the assets of Simpson, who had could hardly cover the hefty sum. In 2006, Simpson attempted to make money in one of the most questionable methods possible. He wrote a book titled "If I Did It: Here's How It Happened" where he hypothetically described what killing his wife would have been like from his, purely hypothetical, perspective. A two-part FOX interview was also filmed where Simpson described some of the things that he wrote, such as "The first few stabs were powered by my awful rage" and "I have never seen so much blood in my life."

Not only did the novel wipe away whatever iota of innocence he still had in the public spotlight, it spurred an enormous backlash against FOX and the book's publisher. The interview was never aired and the book was scrapped almost a week before its release. The rights to the novel were seized by the Brown and Goldman families, who to decided to release the book in 2007 with a new subtitle: "Confessions of the Killer." Although the families contended that the book was tantamount to an admission and that it deserved to be released, many people found its publication unsettling.

On the very same night that If I Did It was published, Simpson and a group of men entered a Las Vegas casino with the intention of reclaiming some of his merchandise from when he played for the Buffalo Bills. An audio tape from the incident surfaced where Simpson and the others threatened the store owner at gunpoint. Simpson was later charged with armed robbery and was sentenced to a maximum of 33 years in prison.

10/03/2000 - Ankiel throws wild

Rick Ankiel was one of the top prodigies in Major League Baseball. At age 20, he was the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award and was establishing himself as the next best left-handed pitcher. Somehow, it all went downhill in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Braves. In the third inning, he gave up four runs on two hits, four walks, and most distressingly, five wild pitches, becoming the first pitcher in 110 years to throw five wild pitches in an inning.

Luckily, his Cardinals had scored six runs in the first inning, so his lack of control was forgivable. The Cardinals would sweep the Braves and advanced to the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets. In Game 2 of the NLCS, Ankiel got the start by manager Tony La Rusa, who assumed that his outing against the Braves was just an aberration.

It wasn't. Ankiel failed to get out of the first inning, giving up a pair of runs while throwing an NLCS record two wild pitches. Something had happened to his control; he couldn't get the ball over the plate, and five of his pitches wound up sailing past the catcher to the backdrop. Of his 34 pitches, only 14 were strikes. It was one thing to pitch badly, but to repeatedly throw the ball over the catcher's head was alarming to say the least.

''I think my responsibility is to put players in the right position to succeed,'' said La Russa, who said it was his fault for starting him. ''Before anybody starts kicking Rick around, I think the blame is with me for putting him in there. This guy's too special.''

In Game 5, the Cards were trailing 6-0 in the seventh inning of a game that would knock them out of the playoffs. La Russa decided to throw out Ankiel one last time in the hope that he'd finish the season on a high note. However, pushing him out in front of a jubilant Shea Stadium crowd was not the right move. Ankiel gave up two more wild pitches and a run before being mercifully pulled.

That last appearance was the death knell for his pitching career. For no apparent reason, Ankiel had completely self-destructed and would be buried in the minor leagues for years and years, as he attempted to come back. In 2004, he made an unsuccessful return as a reliever and pitched in only five games. From there, he switched to becoming a batter and made an incredible return in 2007 as an outfielder. Ankiel was suddenly the feel-good story of the year... before they discovered that he used HGH in 2004. Just as quickly, he and the story fell back to Earth.

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