Today in Sports History: May 12th

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(Joe Namath in a Rams uniform. Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

5/12/1970 - Banks deposits No. 500

Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks hits a home run off Pat Jarvis of the Atlanta Braves -- giving him 500 for his career. As historic a home run as this was in Cubs history, rough weather limited the attendance at Wrigley Field to just 5,264 people. Banks' home run came in a game where the Cubs tied it in the bottom of the ninth on a Billy Williams homer and won it in the eleventh on a Ron Santo bases-loaded single.

"I was thinking about it on and off the field almost all the time," Banks said of reaching No. 500. "Before games, Leo Durocher and others on the team would talk to me. They could tell it was building up."

5/12/1977 - Namath signs with the Rams

After 11 seasons with the New York Jets, Joe Namath signs with the Los Angeles Rams for one final shot at glory. The 34 year-old Namath was still one of the biggest stars the NFL had to offer, but he hadn't put together a quality season in five years and most believed his days as a Pro Bowler were over. The Jets, who had allowed him to become a free agent, were one of them.

"Every player dreams of being part of an organization like the Rams," Namath stated as he was introduced. "They have a very high caliber of players, fine personnel."

Namath got the go-ahead and started in the Rams' first four games of the year. But the aging QB did not perform well, threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and appeared over the hill as he tried to elude defenders. His final appearance of the year came in Week 4, where the Chicago Bears and a tough playing condition combined to rough him up. Chicago won a tight one, 24-23. With the team at 2-2, and his knees in terrible condition, Rams coach Chuck Knox replaced Namath with 24 year-old Pat Haden the following week.

Namath ended his career on the bench and retired shortly after the '77 season. "I knew this was my last year," he said. "It was no fun being a second-string quarterback. Sometimes it was a bit melancholy, looking around and knowing I wouldn't be playing football anymore. But other than that it was no big deal. All I can say is, 'Thank you football fans.'"

5/12/1997 - Bryant shoots blanks against Jazz

It was Game 5 of the semifinals. The Utah Jazz, with a 3-1 series lead, were at home against the Los Angeles Lakers. With only a few seconds remaining in regulation, Kobe Bryant -- the Lakers' 18 year-old rookie prodigy -- went up with a mid-range jay to potentially send the series back to Los Angeles. Instead, Bryant shot an airball and was forced to walk back to the bench with the game tied at 89.

In overtime, Shaquille O'Neal committed his sixth foul of the game and was forced to watch from the sideline. In lieu of their $120 million leader, Kobe Bryant was brave enough to take the shots that Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell weren't willing to take. But unfortunately, Bryant continued to miss -- and miss badly. When it was all said and done, the Jazz had won, 98-93. Kobe had shot four airballs in the final six minutes of the game, including two in the final 45 seconds that could have tied the game.

For Bryant, who had tried his hardest to model himself after Michael Jordan, it was a devastating moment that could have defined his career. But Kobe continued to get better, never stopped taking shots under pressure, and soon found himself with a trio of championship rings. A full decade after the airball game, Bryant was widely acknowledged as the best big-game performer in the game.

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