Sports are a huge part of my life. I grew up playing sports, I have a bachelor’s degree in Sport Management from Texas A&M (Whoop!), and I’m one of the few people under the age of 60 that still has cable, specifically so I can watch sports more easily. I have, as all sports fans have, experienced severe sports heartbreak over the years, and that has led me to have a few personal sports villains.
Now, before I start naming names, I want it understood that I harbor no real ill will towards these folks as people because I don’t know any of them personally. Maybe they are all great people who I unfairly dislike because of my own investment in sports. Or maybe they’re awful people who snub autograph seekers and use puppies to club baby seals for fun. Either way, because of the nature of sports, they are somewhat mythical and therefore easier to judge from a distance. Now, for the names:
Okay, all the non-Aggies can skip this portion, but it needs to be said. Mike Sherman was the head coach of Texas A&M’s football team when I was in college. He had an NFL pedigree and was supposed to “save” what had been a struggling Big 12 program at the time. At first, he was celebrated and had some success. But, he ultimately lost a season opener against Arkansas State in College Station, which was just a microcosm of the problems he had. He also had a good college quarterback in Jerrod Johnson, and a great college quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who was the backup behind Johnson. While Jerrod Johnson had a good season in 2009, he apparently had a shoulder injury that Mike Sherman did not disclose and which led to a very lackluster few starts in 2010. Sherman should have put Tannehill in much earlier, and his decision to delay the starting job switch ended up costing A&M a few wins. I never liked Mike Sherman to begin with, but the fact that he waited so long to put Tannehill in really sealed him as a personal villain of mine.
Any Dallas-area sports fan will tell you Tom Hicks is a villain. Tom Hicks owned the Dallas Stars when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000. He also bankrupted the team—literally. He so mismanaged the Stars’ money that they declared bankruptcy and were sold at an auction in 2010. But that’s not the worst thing Tom Hicks did. The worst thing Tom Hicks did was buy the Texas Rangers. Tom Hicks personally negotiated Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252 million contract that basically prohibited the Rangers from signing any support system afterwards. But of course there is a long history of a shortstop with a big bat single handedly leading a team to unprecedented success…wait, I’m being told that’s never happened and that anyone who thinks so shouldn’t own a professional baseball team. The Rangers were bad for most of Tom Hicks’s tenure as owner, and (shocker) bankruptcy was filed and the team was purchased by an investment group at a public auction. That was in 2010, which began their three-year run as a serious title contender. Speaking of which…
Nelson Cruz (and Albert Pujols, and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, but mainly Nelson Cruz)
In 2011, Nelson Cruz made just over $3.5 million in 2011. In exchange for those $3.5 million, he hit .263 and had 29 home runs. He also cost the Rangers a World Series when he failed to make a routine play on a fly ball to right field. Now, Nelson Cruz is just one man, and to the Cardinals’ credit, they played incredibly well. Albert Pujols stepped up and got hits when they needed them, and David Freese made a name for himself, and I don’t want to detract from their performance. But the Rangers were one out away from winning a World Series when Nelson Cruz made a Little League mistake on a Big League field. I’m convinced I could have strapped a glove to my dog and he could have made the catch, but then again I have a pretty athletic dog. Sometimes I still watch that missed catch when I’m feeling really good so I can balance my mood out a little. Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is still the biggest sports heartbreak I’ve ever experienced. Sure, the Red Sox have Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series, but we in Dallas have Nelson Cruz in 2011.
Dwyane Wade and the 2006 NBA Finals Referees
Dirk Nowtizki won the NBA Championship in 2011, but he and the Mavericks got to the championship series in 2006. In fact, the Mavericks were up 2-0 in the series before the Miami Heat went on to win the next four straight games to win the series. Now, I love conspiracy theories but I generally don’t believe in them. This, however, is a bit different. Tim Donaghy, disgraced NBA official who was sent to prison for rigging NBA games, told the Forgotten Maverick podcast that he believes the NBA “screwed” the Mavericks out of a championship. (Read the Bleacher Report coverage here) The upshot is that the NBA wanted the series to be extended, and beginning in Game 3, Dwyane Wade started getting calls and the Mavericks stopped getting them. In the four games Miami won, Dwyane Wade took an average of 18.3 free throws per game, including 25 in Game 5 alone, which was the same number as the entire Mavericks team. I’m not saying there was an actual conspiracy, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… But the takeaway is that I never forgave Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat in general, or the NBA officials for that.
As a Dallas native, I feel like I don’t need to expand on this one.