Sandler: The Guys I Missed!

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As many of you know by now, I love sports. Not just baseball. All sports.

Growing up, I didn’t really watch cartoons. I watched sports. No one forced that upon me, either. I would study sports and sports history and would always be sad that there were so many greats I never saw play or, at least, never saw in their prime. With the free time allowed by the quarantine, I’ve taken some time to go back and watch some of those greats for whom video was available. But that doesn’t really do it justice because to truly appreciate the greatness of these legends, it isn’t about one game or a group of highlights; it’s about the consistency they delivered regularly and over long stretches.

Since I grew up in the 90s but was really only able to consume and retain sports memories starting in 1995, I figured I’d share the three athletes from various sports who spent the last part of their career in 1990 or after, but whose careers my memories are only in research. Again, the rule is that, even if just for one game, they had to have played some point after 1990. Maybe I caught a lot of their career, but none of their prime, or maybe I remember nothing about their career at all. Anyway, here goes nothing…

NBA

Magic Johnson: I’m a sucker for great passers and watching highlights of Magic is so exciting. A few weeks ago I went back and watched a random Lakers game from the mid-80s just to get a non-highlights view of Magic playing. He was a wizard with the ball.

Larry Bird: The stories of Bird are pretty epic and reek of an unrelenting competitive spirit. Those Magic-Bird matchups would have been a blast. He was so crafty and creative in the ways he’d either score the ball himself or set up his teammates.

Charles Barkley: There are better players whom I’m leaving off the list but I only really remember the end of Barkley’s career and certainly not his MVP season. For someone with whom I’m so familiar, I’d like to have more than just his time with the Rockets etched into my mind.

 

MLB

Dwight “Doc” Gooden: As a 20-year old the guy posted a 1.53 ERA averaging nearly a K/inning in an era where guys didn’t strike out nearly as much. And the year before that, at 19, he had a 2.60 ERA and well more than a K/inning. That level of dominance is off the charts.

Nolan Ryan: How can I not include such a mythical figure? He threw a no-hitter on my second birthday but all I know about Nolan are the stories I hear and the pieces I read.

Bo Jackson: I hate that I never really got to experience the unique athleticism he possessed.

 

NHL

Wayne Gretzky: I remember several years of Gretzky’s career but I wasn’t alive for his dominance of the 80s. To think he had four seasons of 200+ points is mind-numbing considering the annual high-point total in the NHL these days sometimes doesn’t exceed 100.

Mario Lemieux: The greatest non-Gretzky player in NHL history? The reason for Lemiuex are similar to that of Gretzky. I remember the back half of his career but not his off-the-charts dominance.

Ray Borque: I remember a lot of Borque’s career but I didn’t appreciate the nuances of hockey enough to enjoy his greatness while he still played at a high level.

 

NFL

Lawrence Taylor: He’s arguably the best defensive player of all-time, right? Even if he isn’t your number one he has to be up there. I don’t have any memory of watching Taylor play but the film and the stories add up to a special spectacle.

Joe Montana: My first memory of Montana is with the Chiefs so that tells you all you need to know.

Eric Dickerson: I don’t have a single memory of Dickerson and I imagine it would be fun to add some, especially from his first four season in the league in which he eclipsed 2000 yards once and 1800 yards two other times.