ST. LOUIS — Here in the city the PGA Championship calls home this week, they know a little about unique sports storylines.
This is the place that has a Super Bowl title, but no NFL team. And an NBA championship, but no professional basketball franchise.
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The Lombardi Trophy was won by the late, great St. Louis Rams, whose quarterback Kurt Warner was undrafted, and stocked shelves in a grocery store before he got his big chance. No ordinary ending to his biggest victory, either. You might recall how the Rams clinched Super Bowl XXXIV when Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson was stopped at the 1-yard line on the final play.
The NBA title went to the long-departed St. Louis Hawks, mostly because of Bob Pettit, a guy who played church league as a teenager because he was cut from his high school varsity. He ended up a Hall of Famer, and in 1958, scored 50 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to get the Hawks past Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics 110-109 and win the championship in six games.
This is the place that produced boxer Leon Spinks, who in only his eighth professional bout beat Muhammad Ali. And Jackie Joyner-Kersee — from across the river in East St. Louis, Ill.— whose severe asthma did not stop her from winning six track medals over four different Olympic Games.
This is the place where the expansion St. Louis hockey Blues went to the Stanley Cup finals their first three seasons of existence. They didn’t win any of the three, and they haven’t been back in 48 years. They’ve earned a spot in the NHL playoffs 41 times without a title — the most by any franchise in any of the four major professional sports.
But they did have Red Berenson, who once scored four goals in nine minutes and six in a game.
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This is the place where UCLA won its seventh consecutive NCAA basketball championship in 1973. Bill Walton took 22 shots in the title game against Memphis that night. He missed once.
Five years after that, Kentucky beat Duke for the championship with 41 points from Jack Givens — which means two of the three top title game scoring performances in history came in St. Louis. Twenty-seven years after that, Roy Williams won his first North Carolina national championship here.
This is the place where they held the 1904 Olympics. Only 12 nations showed up, the others citing the hardship of getting to the middle of America. So the United States won 239 medals and the rest of the world 41. Among the events was tug-of-war. And the marathon was held on a day so hot that 18 of the 32 entrants didn’t finish. That included one who nearly died, and another who was chased off the course by dogs.
This is where Henry Armstrong learned to box so well — he would end up the first man to be world champion in three different weight classes at the same time. Where Arthur Ashe worked on his tennis game as a high schooler. And where golf champion Hale Irwin raised his family.
This is where Nick Price broke through to win his first major in the 1992 PGA Championship, where Ben Hogan won the PGA in 1948, in a tournament format that required him to play 216 holes in seven days. Where Lew Worsham beat Sam Snead in a playoff in the 1947 U.S. Open, and Gary Player did the same to Kel Nagle in a playoff in 1965 — the first U.S. Open to ever be televised in color.
And this is the place where baseball has been king.
It is the place that put both teams in the 1944 World Series, the Cardinals beating the Browns.
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It is where the Browns once sent a player to the plate name Eddie Gaedel. All 3-foot-7 of him. He walked, on four pitches. It would be his only major league appearance.
It is where the Cardinals have won 11 championships, second in the major leagues. Never mind that’s 16 behind the Yankees.
It’s where Stan Musial was named to the All-Star team 24 times, and Bob Gibson threw three complete games in the same World Series while giving up 14 hits, and Lou Brock set the record for stolen bases, and Mark McGwire passed Roger Maris for most home runs in a season, and Rogers Hornsby hit .358 for his career — the best of anyone in history not named Ty Cobb.
And it is where, on an October day in 1985, Ozzie Smith went to the plate in the ninth inning of a playoff game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That was switch-hitter Smith’s 3,010th career at-bat as a left-hander; he had no home runs the first 3,009. But on the 3,010th, he sent a ball over the right field wall for a walk-off homer, as Cardinals radio legend Jack Buck shouted immortally to his audience, “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!”
Smith, who became more famous for his glove than his bat, was at the press room dais Wednesday, sitting next to the Wanamaker Trophy, being honored by the PGA for leading the Reach program that is designed to take golf to inner city kids. Sitting around him were a gaggle of St. Louis sports celebrities.
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One was Joyner-Kersee, who didn’t quite know what to call the thing they’re swinging around Bellerive this weekend — someone mentioned it was a club — but did point out, “I can outrun the ball.”
Another was announcer Joe Buck – Jack’s son – who looked at all the sports figures there for Smith, from Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog to current Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko, and said, “The game of golf and the sports world is going to be reminded this week of how special a town this is.”
Smith took up golf when he retired in the 1990s. The state of his game? “I work hard at it. It doesn’t always show.”
Once, he hit a larger white ball 11 miles from here, and the town will never forget it. The PGA can only hope for such finish late Sunday afternoon.