What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
If you give it a bit of thought, it’s easy to see the analogies between sports and war. The field of battle since the dawn of time has been one of the few places where violence, deceit, and death come in the same canteen with honor, duty, and discipline. Suggestive of the overall duality of man, that dissonant harmony is why we romanticize war with tales of glorious victories, crushing defeats, and courageous and sometimes fallen heroes.
But the other place where all those qualities co-exist is in the world of sports. Granted, the stakes aren’t as high and sports do not make the die in which our history is cast, but sports give us so many of the elements of war without the death. There’s conflict, camaraderie, and as Wide World of Sports taught us…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But If you give it a bit more thought and take the idea from the conceptual level to that of specific examples, those things give us some perfect comparison between those two worlds.
We love to think that Dubsism is a place where you can learn more by accident than in other places by design. That’s why we’ve cobbled together a list of twenty landmark battles culled from the annals of military history and point out their nearly linear comparisons in sports.
Should you be interested in other installments in this series, here’s where you can find them:
Gravelines represented the end of King Philip II’s mighty Spanish Armada. Philip II was the jure uxoris King of England and Ireland by right of his marriage to England’s Queen Mary I from 1554 to 1558. But when Mary I died, Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne and reversed Mary I’s re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with arguably the most powerful and devoutly Catholic ruler in Europe. That coupled with England’s rising as an international power could only mean one thing. In 1588, Philip II dispatched the Duke of Medina Sidonia to lead the Armada on a quest to force Protestant England back to Catholicism.
Queen Elizabeth I had other ideas.
When the Spanish Armada anchored off Calais, France in late July 1588, they took up a tightly-packed defensive crescent-shaped formation. Nearby in Dunkirk, a 16,000-man Spanish Army was waiting to be loaded on barges and escorted to the English coast by the Armada.
On a Saturday night, the English sacrificed eight warship by filling them with pitch, brimstone, gunpowder, and tar, setting them on fire, and let the wind take them directly into the heart of the Armada’s formation. Two of the “fireships” were intercepted and towed away, but the other half-dozen became an imminent threat. Medina Sidonia’s flagship and the capital warships held their positions, but the rest of the fleet cut their anchor cables and scattered in confusion. No Spanish ships burned, but their defensive was broken, and the fleet now found itself too far leeward of Calais in the rising southwesterly wind to recover their position.
The time for the English fleet to strike was now.
The English were decidedly out-gunned, but they used their superior maneuverability to draw fire from the Armada while managing to stay out of the effective range of the Spanish guns. While the Spanish were re-loading, the English would close in and fire damaging broadsides while maintaining a windward position. This meant the English could inflict damage to the Armada’s hulls which would be below the waterline once the Spanish galleons changed course.
Another problem faced by the Spanish was many of their gunners were killed or wounded by the English fire. That meant now the task of manning the cannon fell to the naval infantry who had no idea what they were doing. Meanwhile, the English ships were laying so much fire on the Armada that they began to run out of ammunition; some English gunners were loading their cannons with chains.
At the end of the battle, Gravelines was a tactical draw; both sides incurred about the same amount of damage. The difference was the Spanish had to sail back to Spain through an English Channel rife with shoals off the Flemish coast which were well out of the safe range for the Spanish galleons; several of them ran aground and were lost. That notwithstanding, Gravelines was a major strategic victory for the English because it thwarted the intended Spanish invasion. Between the losses incurred during the battle and those suffered in the subsequent disastrous retreat, the Spanish Armada was never again a major factor. It’s no accident the “golden age” of English piracy against Spanish trade routes to the New World and the rise of English colonies in north America occur in the half-century after Gravelines.
The Sporting Equivalent: ESPN’s Suicidal Embrace of Politics
King Philip II made a decision to invade England based largely on his intolerance of Protestantism. ESPN decided to inject politics into it’s sports coverage because it’s management is decidedly intolerant of opposing political viewpoints. Dubsism has documented The World Wide Bottom Feeder’s exploits time and time again. In fact, the series The Sports Sewer is dedicated almost exclusively to the crap ESPN spews.
The cliché at this point comes from the time Michael Jordan was asked by a Democrat activist why he never got involved in politics. His answer was “Because Republican buy shoes too.” As overused as it is, it became so shop-worn because it’s true. Once ESPN picked up the banner of a particular ideology, it immediately alienated all the others. This was particularly egregious because throughout history, sports have been a unifying force; this was where people to enjoy something outside of the drudgery and silliness of everyday life. But ESPN brought all that in by needless politicizing the world of sport.
Here’s the bottom line. Intolerance of other points of view is suicidal because it usually forces a fatal decision. The rotting hulks of the beached Spanish galleons were a monument to Philip II’s stupidity; the plummeting ratings of ESPN and the network’s consistent role as a financial millstone around the neck of it’s parent company Disney are simply a modern-day beached Spanish galleon.
In Russia, what we call “World War II” is referred to as “The Great Patriotic War.” That’s because even though Russia at this time is mired in the depth of Stalinist communism, losing this war against Nazi Germany would have meant the end of Russian sovereignty. The Battle of Kursk was the largest tank battle the world has ever seen; it was centered around a town named Kursk about 300 miles southwest of Moscow.
The Germans were intent to regain the offensive on the Eastern Front by attacking a salient in their lines at Kursk. The Soviet bulge protruding into the German lines stretched 150 miles from north to south, and 100 miles westward. The plan was to launch a surprise attack using a “pincers” movement coming from the north and south; the idea being to surround and destroy the Soviet forces within the bulge. To accomplish, the Wehrmacht assembled an attacking force of 50 divisions containing 900,000 troops, including 17 motorized/armored divisions containing 2,700 tanks and artillery pieces.
However, the Germans had a major problem of which they were unaware; their “surprise” attack was anything but. The Soviets had been tipped off by British intelligence months in advance that an attack would be launched against the Kursk salient. This allowed the Red Army, to construct an elaborate defense-in-depth designed to bog down the German armored spearhead. This consisted of a series of defensive fortifications, tank traps, and minefields including approximately 1.3 million troops, 3,600 tanks, and 2,800 aircraft.
Additionally, the Germans delayed the start of the offensive named Operation Citadel until July of 1943, largely because the invasion of Sicily earlier that year had forced diversion of German troops to the Mediterranean and Hitler wanted to wait for full development of new weapons, mainly the new Panther tank but also larger numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. Finally, the Germans launched on Operation Citadel on July 5th. As planned, the Red Army soaked up the brunt of the German assault; stalling the Wehrmacht completely on the northern end of the salient.
One week later, the Soviets launched Operation Kutuzov, a counter-offensive aimed at the German rear on the northern side of the salient with coordinated counter-attacks on the southern side. This led to the massive armor battle at Prokhorovka. The result of that armor encounter placed the initiative firmly in the hands of the Soviets. As a follow-up, the Red Army launched Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against the German forces in the southern side of the Kursk salient.
The Battle of Kursk offered two firsts. It marked the first time in the war that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through and penetrate into the enemy rear. It also represented the first time the Red Army was successful in a summer offensive. As a decisive Soviet victory, Kursk also saw the final time Germany was able to mount a strategic offensive on the Eastern Front.
The Sporting Equivalent: The “Thrilla In Manila”
Like Kursk, the third fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was another summer-time heavyweight slug-fest. Even though it was held on October 1, 1975, and despite the fact it was held took place at 10 a.m. local time, the temperature was still near 100 °F in Manila. The odd time was to account for the time difference between the United States and the Phillipines; Ali-Frazier III was the first Pay-Per-View sporting event in television history.
Early in the fight, Ali was the aggressor, moving around Frazier to trade blows. But the heat soon took it’s toll, Ali slowed the paces and adopted his trademark “rope-a-dope” strategy, frequently resorting to clinches. During the middle rounds of the fight, Ali did land some effective counter-punches, but realistically this part of the fight belonged to the relentlessly attacking Frazier. Come the 12th round, it was Frazier’s turn to tire. This is when Ali landed some devastating punches which closed Frazier’s left eye and opened a cut over his right.
Now that Frazier’s vision was clearly compromised, Ali dominated the end of the fight. Boxing historian Mike Silver described what Ali did to Frazier in the 13th and 14th rounds as “target practice.” The end of the fight came at the beginning of the 15th round when Frazier’s trainer wouldn’t allow him to answer the bell. At the end, Frazier’s eyes were swollen shut and Ali was slumped on his stool; he was clearly spent. Afterward, Ali was noted to say that fight was “was the closest thing to dying that I know.”
There have only ever been two successful invasion of the British Isles. First came the Romans, and a thousand years later came the Normans. By the time William the Conqueror led the Normans to victory at the Battle of Hastings, Britain was under the control of the Vikings, who also ruled Scandinavia and a large part of Northern Europe. But even in areas they didn’t control, such as current-day France, Earlier Viking victories and frequent raids led to enough intermarriage to create a people calling themselves the Normans.
Eventually to stop the raids, the Normans invaded England. Not only did their victory at Hastings secure the English crown for William the Conqueror, but ensured that England would adopt the political and social traditions of continental Europe, rather than those of Scandinavia.
The Sporting Equivalent: Super Bowl III
Successful mergers of major sports leagues don’t happen very often, and there was none bigger in American sports history than that of the National Football League (NFL) and American Football League (AFL) in 1970. Leading up to that union, the champions of the two leagues played in an exhibition game called the Super Bowl. After the merger, this game would be the one which crown the champion of professional football. But in 1968, it was still an exhibition game with no official significance.
That didn’t change the fact that it was becoming a major sporting event. It also didn’t help the predominant opinion that the AFL was inferior to the NFL; the Green Bay Packers had annihilated their AFL counterparts in the previous two games. Going into Super Bowl III, the NFL’s Baltimore Colts were a prohibitive favorite over the AFL’s New York Jets. What nobody seemed to understand was the NFL’s dominance of the first two Super Bowls was more a function of the dominance of the Green Bay Packers. But in 1968, the Packers’ legendary head coach Vince Lombardi had left, and the Packers didn’t even make the play-offs. While the Baltimore Colts were pretty damn good, they weren’t the Lombardi-era Packers.
Also by 1968, both leagues were as “inter-married” as were the Vikings and the Normans. Both leagues and their respective champions were both well-stocked with top-quality veteran talent and both leagues could compete for the best players coming out of the college game. Nevertheless, when New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would win, it was headline news. But he played the role of William the Conqueror and delivered the Norman-esque Jets to victory…even though nobody thought they could.
In terms of battles, this doesn’t rate very high; the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagaski were literally over in a flash. But those fleeting moments on those two mornings in August of 1945 changed everything about the “game” of war. Despite the fact that nuclear weapons have never been used in combat since, they spent the better part of the following five decades being the primary sabres being rattled by the United States and the Soviet Union during the “Cold War.”
The Sporting Equivalent: The Curt Flood “Free-Agency” Decision
The Christian calendar is marked in terms of before and after Christ. Warfare is date-stamped before and after the advent of nuclear weapons. The chronology of American sports is similarly marked by the Curt Flood decision.
Even though the Supreme Court ruled against Flood in his suit against baseball’s “reserve clause,” that decision still marked the beginning of the end. The “reserve clause” had been part of baseball contracts since the dawn of the professional game. Essentially, the “reserve clause” meant all rights to a player were retained by the team for one year after a contract expired. This left players in “limbo;” they were not free to enter into a contract with another team. If they weren’t re-signed by that team, they couldn’t play. The only option players had was to hold out at the time to negotiate a contract and refuse to play unless their conditions were met. “Star” players had leverage to do that, and usually had bank-rolled enough money they could live for a year without getting paid. Once they were under contract, players could be reassigned to the minor leagues, released, sold, or traded at the team’s discretion.
The latter is exactly what happened to Curt Flood. In 1956, the 18-year old Flood signed his first professional baseball contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Two years later, the Reds traded Flood to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he became a “star” player and a team captain. Flood batted .300 in 6 of the next 12 seasons, earned seven Gold Glove awards, and played in three World Series, two of which the Cardinals won.
Despite that, Flood was largely blamed for the Cardinals losing the 1968 World series when he committed a costly error in the deciding seventh game. This began a steady deterioration of the relationship between Flood and team president Gussie Busch. Matters only worsened as the Cardinals struggled during the 1969, trailing the rival Chicago Cubs in the newly-created National League East division. At the end of the season, Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, who were the worst team in the league at the time.
Flood felt the move was punitive in nature, and appealed to Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn asking to be declared a free-agent. Kuhn declined, and in January 1970 Flood filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages and injunctive relief from the “reserve clause.”
Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Flood, but the tide was already turning. The player’s union now knew the courts would not help them get rid of the “reserve clause,” so they included it as a demand during the next round of collective bargaining between the union and the owners. The “reserve clause” was eventually dropped in 1975.
The climax and deciding moment of the American Revolution was far more than the end of a six-year long war. The Battle of Yorktown not only cemented the independence of the Thirteen Colonies, it marked the first rejection by force of a major colonial power. Not only did that mean the birth of what would soon become the United States of America, it’s not an accident that within a decade there would be an uprising against the monarchy of a major colonial power. History is filled with battles which were most famous, more dramatic, and far bloodier, but there was never one which was more influential.
When the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775, it simply didn’t seem possible that a disorganized citizen army could possibly challenge the world’s pre-eminent military power, let alone score a victory which would forever alter the course of history. Not only did the Americans establish their independence, but they maintained it despite the fact the British didn’t give up quite that easily…realistically, the War of 1812 is essentially the second war of independence. On top that, the only reason the French aided the Continental Army was because they thought getting rid of the British would leave the thirteen fledgling colonies primed to fall into their sphere of influence. Don’t forget the Spanish were still building an empire of their own, and they had established presences as close as current-day Florida and Texas.
Since then, those thirteen colonies grew into a nation which became the pre-eminent world power in their own right.
The Sporting Equivalent: Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) Knocking Out Sonny Liston
This one is easy…they both shook up the world.
You can see all of Dubsism’s other forays into history here.
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