With Irene drawing near, it seems appropriate to riff about hurricanes – and their place in sports history. Three hurricanes that come immediately to mind:
● Oct. 6, 1946 – There’s no reason for anybody to remember this, but the San Francisco 49ers were supposed to meet the Miami Seahawks on this day in Miami’s first-ever pro football game. (The teams belonged to the All-America Conference, which sprang up after World War II and partially merged into the NFL in 1950.)
Anyway, a hurricane came roaring out of the Gulf of Mexico and wreaked havoc in western Cuba, causing the game to be postponed for two days. “While we were waiting for it to be played,” one of the 49ers once told me, “we filled sandbags [to try to prevent flooding].”
When the clubs finally did kick off – on what newspapers described as “soggy, slippery turf,” the Niners hammered the Seahawks, 34-7. They then hopped on a plane and flew directly to Los Angeles, where they had another game four days later. The ’Hawks had it even worse. They had a game in Buffalo three days later. Such was life in pro football back then.
FYI: The Miami franchise dropped out of the league after one season and was replaced by the Baltimore Colts (the original Colts franchise, not the one that was founded in 1953 and is now in Indianapolis). The Seahawks didn’t have much talent, but they did have Dub Jones, who in ’51 would tie the NFL record by scoring six touchdowns in a game for the Browns. Dub was also the father of Bert Jones, the Colts’ glamour-boy quarterback in the ’70s.
● Bob “Hurricane” Hazle – A right fielder in the Milwaukee Braves farm system, Hazle was promoted to the majors in late July 1957 and helped the Braves win the National League pennant (and subsequent World Series over the Yankees). In 41 games, he batted .403, slugged .649 and, despite limited playing time, even managed to finish fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Hazle hit the big leagues with such force that he was nicknamed “Hurricane” Hazle – after the Hurricane Hazel that had so devastated his native South Carolina in 1954. Alas, like the real hurricane, Bob’s ’57 performance turned out to be a freak of nature. He never came close to matching it and was out of baseball two years later.
● Rubin “Hurricane” Carter – Carter is one of the most celebrated non-champions in the annals of boxing. Perhaps you saw the 1999 Denzel Washington movie, “Hurricane.” That pretty well lays out Carter’s story (while taking some liberties with his ring career).
Dubbed “Hurricane” because of his ferocious punching style, Carter once fought for the middleweight title. But he was later convicted – wrongfully, it turned out – of taking part in a triple homicide in 1966, and he spent 18 years in prison before the decision was overturned. Bob Dylan even took up his cause, composing a song about him (“Hurricane”) and organizing benefit concerts to raise money for his appeals.
Strange but true: One of the three murder victims was named Hazel – Hazel Tanis.
● Honorable mention: The Miami Hurricanes, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.