He spit on someone? He cocked his head back and actually let saliva fly into the face of a fellow football player?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In the middle of the biggest game of the last six years for every Washington sports fan – Saturday’s playoff game against Tampa Bay – the Redskins’ star safety, Sean Taylor, got himself ejected because of a stray loogie.
He could have cost his team the game (the Bucs did have two deep shots at the endzone after he was gone), but he wanted the satisfaction of spitting on Michael Pittman, God’s proof that steroids must work if you want biceps bigger than Shaq. And I’m not just talking about Shaq’s biceps; I think Pittman’s arms might be bigger than the actual 400-pound center.
Had the ‘Skins lost the first playoff game they played in the last six years, that play – which might keep Taylor out of next week’s game – would have gone down as one of the biggest bonehead plays in recent memory. Talk about adrenaline getting the best of a person.
Taylor is the same guy who allegedly pulled a gun on some guy who stole his ATV, so he’s not the perfect example of restraint.
But this isn’t a just a Sean Taylor issue. It’s a sports thing. Pittman swung back at Taylor, and, had the ref not been right there, things could have escalated. There’s always the annual college football bowl fight. This year it was Miami and Louisiana State in a 40-3 blowout; a few years ago, it was Hawaii and Houston in an overtime thriller. While I’m writing this column, the Steelers and Bengals look as if they are seconds away from blows.
Even Clinton Portis’s mother punched an Eagles fan after being doused with beer last week. And when I was a young teen, I was ejected from a soccer game for socking a guy who was pushing my buttons.
I’m not prepared to write about whether fighting is right or wrong – necessary or not. It happens, and that’s that. What I am prepared to do is bring back memories of some of the best fights in recent memory. I could list the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manilla, but that doesn’t seem fair. I’ll limit it to fights that took place in “non-fighting” sports – and, yes, I’m including hockey in the group of “non-fighting” sports.
5. Washington vs. Tomjanovich: A memory that is one of the most haunting pieces of footage in sports. The Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich runs over to break up a fight between a teammate and Kermit Washington, and he gets greeted by a straight right from Washington. Ali would have been proud, but no one was – not even Washington, who almost killed Tomjanovich that night.
4. Artest vs. Detroit: Over-hyped and over-played. Ron Artest will always be blamed because of his trip into the stands of the Palace. Artest got in his shots, but he didn’t even throw the best punch. Fellow Pacer Stephen Jackson wailed on a fan with a hay-maker while defending his teammate, and Jermaine O’Neal cold-clocked a Ben Wallace look-alike (or maybe just a guy in a replica jersey) who was on the court.
3. Vernon vs. Roy: The best fights usually come in hockey, and the best of the best are often between either the Red Wings and the Avalanche or between goalies. With Mike Vernon skating down the ice ready to maul Patrick Roy, this one had both. I don’t know what it is about goalies fighting – maybe it’s those ridiculous pads or the implication that they are soft or that it takes them half a year to actually make it down the ice for the fight – but when they start throwing punches, it’s always worth a chuckle.
2. Zimmer vs. Pedro: The microcosm of the best baseball brawl of this short millennium, the 150-year-old bench coach Don Zimmer was never really in it. For someone who hates both the Yankees and the Red Sox, the possibility of the two teams destroying each other (and leaving the division to the mighty Orioles) was as exciting as it gets. The highlight was ace Pedro Martinez grabbing the bald dome of the little Yankee man and throwing him to the ground. It seemed as if Zimmer, a round man if ever there was, rolled all the way down the first-base line, and when he hit the ground, I felt the tremors in Washington.
1. Michigan vs. Fairbanks: This fight had it all: punches and facemasks, body slams and beat downs. While the Michigan hockey team was cruising to a 4-0 win over Alaska-Fairbanks Friday night and goalie Billy Sauer was cruising toward his first career shutout, it looked as if the game would end a bore. But with 50 seconds left, the two teams must have realized the fans’ boredom. Everyone on the ice, sans goalies, went after each over, and, at one point, five Wolverines crowded into the penalty box. The best part about this fight was that the players continued to go at it while the refs were breaking it up. Since they all paired off, the refs could only break up one fight at a time. By the time they made it over to freshman Jack Johnson’s bout, he and his opponent were already rolling on the ground – faces beet red. Johnson had a huge, Chucky-esque smile plastered across his face as he stepped into the box. He loved it.
Are there more? Almost certainly. Fights in athletics – whether it’s the pros, college or apparently even little league – seem to be inevitable. I wanted to include a shot at Woody Hayes for Hayes vs. Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman, but that just seemed too easy. And I didn’t really feel like pulling out the uppercut.
Ian Herbert also remembers a brawl between the writers of The Michigan Daily and The State News after the Daily tried to plant a Michigan flag into the Spartan ‘S’ following a 10-3 thrashing in the annual football game. If you want to add to the list, you can reach him at email@example.com.