Professional sports have been an important part of popular culture in the United States for over a century. Something about the competition between two forces greatly adheres to the American psyche. With such a long, rich history of sports in America, certain players, teams, and figures have become legendary across the nation. Not only have these figures reached a legendary status, but some of the stories themselves concerning these goliaths of sport have become incredibly widespread. These "urban legends" are certainly entertaining, but not all of them are absolutely true.
As such, this list will count down some of sports' biggest urban legends, 8 which are true, and 7 which aren't. By going through this list, I hope to dispel some of the rumors about sports most famous urban legends (and hopefully affirm some of them too). In the interest of diversity, we compiled this list with the hopes of including a variety of sports, timeframes, and story topics. With that being said, the most popular sports (NFL, MLB, NBA) naturally have the urban legends which are more well known. If you know some famous sports urban legends that did not make our list, feel free to name them in the comments sections.
15 True - Gaylord Perry Home Run
Some of the entries on this list speak volumes about where a particular team or sport is at this point in their history, but this next one is purely for fun. Back in 1963 Gaylord Perry was a star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. When a reporter jokingly asked Perry if he would ever hit a home run, he replied "They'll put a man on the moon before I hit a home run." This conversation entered into sports legend on July 20, 1969. On this day, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Also that day, Perry hit his first-ever career home run. This incredible coincidence is one of the greatest true urban legends in the history of sports.
14 False - Michael Jordan Was Cut From His High School Basketball Team
An extremely famous sports urban legend which isn't exactly true is that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. This story was spread during Jordan's playing days, and it has become even more widely traveled in the decade since he retired. I think people love to tell this story because it shows that hard work, and not mere athletic ability, is the most important attribute in determining the success of an athlete. The main issue with this anecdote, however, is that it is not actually true. Jordan was never cut from his high school basketball team. When he made this comment, he was referring to fact that he did not make the varsity basketball team when he was a freshman in high school. He was not cut from the overall program; however, he was actually one of the stars of the school's JV team.
13 True - DeflateGate
Those of you who listen to sports radio know that the NFL is currently in dire straits. A combination of factors has put the future of the most popular sports league in America in jeopardy. One such factor is the growing resentment that certain fanbases feel towards the NFL, and more specifically Commissioner Roger Goodell. A perfect example of this is the DeflateGate saga which plagued the 2016 season. While I understand the frustration of Patriot fans with how the whole thing was handled, it is obvious that New England quarterback Tom Brady was doing something that he wasn't supposed to. Innocent people simply do not destroy their phones if they aren't worried that federal investigators will find something incriminating on the device.
12 False - The Curse Of The Bambino
It was a long running story that the Boston Red Sox's lack of success was due to the infamous "Curse of the Bambino." This urban legend can be traced all the way back to 1919 when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. For those of you who know absolutely nothing about baseball, Ruth was MLB's home run leader for half a century and his widely considered to be one of the greatest hitters of all time. Following this trade, the Red Sox experienced an 86-year championship drought, which fans largely attributed to the horrendous trade on the part of the Boston management. When the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, it was assumed that that squad had somehow broken the infamous curse. In reality, Boston was able to win the Series in 2004 because that was the first team they had fielded since 1919 which was in any way good enough to win a championship.
11 True - Art Rooney's Racetrack Win
Though accounts now vary, for a long time it was widely believed that Art Rooney had gained the funds by which he bought the Steelers franchise by betting at the horse track. Given Rooney's penchant for horse races, this story is hardly unfathomable. However, the NFL's currently strict stance on gambling has recently put this story under the microscope. While this story was never verified by Rooney himself, the fact that it was never questioned until it caused an unfavorable shadow to fall on the NFL leads me to believe that this story is factually accurate. As far as urban legends go, one that explains the very existence of one of North America's most popular sports franchises is pretty darn cool.
10 False - Bobby Riggs Threw The Battle Of The Sexes
When evaluating whether a sports urban legend is true or false, it is important to think about who would benefit from a fact check (or vice versa). With that being said, one urban legend which is commonly brought up is that Bobby Riggs threw his infamous "Battle of the Sexes" match against Billie Jean King. The main evidence that his match was fake is that 1) Riggs was heavily favored to win the match and 2) Riggs seemed lackadaisical in his play for much of the competition. Both of these pieces of evidence, however, can be explained by the fact that Bobby Riggs was a pretty big douche. One reason why he was so heavily favored (besides ESPN's male bias) was that he talked so much trash leading up to the match. Riggs clearly overplayed his hand, however, and Billie Jean King didn't need any help dominating him for much of the day.
9 True - The WCW Scissors Incident
The professional wrestling industry is one that is traditionally rife with urban legends. During their time with WCW, Sid Vicious and Arn Anderson got into a fight because of some arrogant comments Sid had said about him "being the future" and old-timers like Anderson and Ric Flair "needing to retire". This led to an initial scuffle between the wrestlers while they were drinking at a bar. Things really got dicey later that evening, however, as Sid would show up at Anderson's hotel room to continue the fight. At some point during the confrontation, Sid got ahold of a pair of scissors and proceeded to stab Anderson multiple times in the back. Sid would eventually flee the scene, and Anderson was rushed to the hospital. Since Sid was arrested for his actions, I think it's fair to say that this urban legend is absolutely true.
8 False - The NFL Fixed Super Bowl XL
The reason why anything is considered an urban legend is that there is no absolute evidence in support of or in contradiction to the story. When any story involves a league fixing their championship, however, I am additionally skeptical of the tale's truthfulness. A perfect example of this is the urban legend that the NFL fixed Super Bowl XL so that Jerome Bettis could win his only Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Admittedly, it is these kind of stories that pump up ratings for the NFL, but at the time of Super Bowl XL, this ratings spike had already happened. Bettis had already announced his retirement, and the feel-good story of him winning the championship would have no effect on the ratings of the subsequent 2006 season. Therefore, the NFL would have in no way benefited from a Steelers win in Super Bowl XL, thus making this urban legend unlikely.
7 True - The NBA Fixed The 2002 Western Conference Finals
I did my best in the intro to relate my reluctance to believe any stories where an NBA league fixes their championship. With that being said, the legend concerning Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals does seem to have some merit. According to legend, two referees in the game were told to extend the series to seven games at all cost. When disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy hinted that this story might indeed be true, it opened the floodgates for conspiracy theorists. The primary reason why I think this tale has some merit is that it would be hugely financially beneficial for the league (not to mention both teams involved) if the series went to seven games. This kind of monetary temptation could tempt the league to bend the rules a little bit.
6 False - NBA's Frozen Envelope
The "Frozen Envelope Theory" suggests that the NBA rigged the 1985 Draft Lottery to ensure that future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing could get drafted by the New York Knicks. There has long been speculation in the NBA that the league favors bigger market teams, because their success leads to more sales which ultimate leads to more revenue for the league. As such, it was a little fishy when New York was able to gain the 1st pick in the '85 Draft with such a surefire talent as Ewing being the unanimous top choice. The main reason why I elected to put this entry into our "fake" category is that there had to have been a better way to fix the NBA's lottery system. If the NBA was so intent on Ewing going to the Knicks that they were willing to cheat the system, I have a hard time believing that they would use something so unreliable as a frozen envelope.
5 True - Eric Bischoff Broom Interview
If I had to pick the sport which most adores urban legends, it would probably be professional wrestling fans. Of those urban legends, the most popular are those which involve the principal owner of the WWE, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. One such legend which has gotten significantly play on the internet is that Vince once interviewed Eric Bischoff for a position with WWE. Bischoff would go on to become one of the principal reasons for WCW's success in the Monday Night Wars, so the fact that WWE would let him slip though their fingers is notable. Not only did Vince and the WWE miss out on the chance on hiring him, however, they actually treated Bischoff as the butt of their joke. According to Bischoff, WWE management asked Bischoff to give an interview to a broom. He viewed this as a sign of disrespect, providing him with part of the motivation to go after WWE so strongly when they became his competition.
4 False - Wade Boggs Drank 64 Miller Lites
I have serious doubts whether our next urban legend is true, but part of my really hopes that it is. Legend has it that MLB legend Wade Boggs once drank 64 Miller Lites in one sitting. Since this was before the invention of the pounder, this would mean that Boggs drank exactly 768 ounces of Miller Lite. To provide some perspective, this is almost half of an entire keg. Boggs was known as a heavy drinker throughout his playing days, but this number seems a little high to actually be true. For starters, did he already have 64 Miller Lites with him when he started drinking? Why would he bring so many beers with him, what did he imagine was going to happen at this party? Also, why not switch things up? As much as I love my Yuengling, after 30 or so beers I would think that I would have to switch things up to another brew.
3 True - MLB's Vendetta Against Pete Rose
The history of professional sports could be told as a history of imagined slights. From Terrell Owens to Tommy Gunn, it seems like there is always an athlete who thinks that everyone is out to get them. One athlete who may be legitimate in their gripe, however, is Pete Rose. Some of you may know Pete Rose as the MLB's all-time hit leader, but most of you likely know him as the man who gambled on baseball. What most of you likely do not know is that Rose was only a manager at the time, and he wasn't even betting on a game that he was involved in. This has been enough to keep one of baseball's greatest players out of the Hall of Fame, and he has even been garnering less Hall votes than known steroid users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
2 False - Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 2001 Wins Were Fixed
For the sake of the entire sport of NASCAR, I hope that his particular urban legend isn't true. This is the only storyline in the history of NASCAR which was even remotely entertaining to the general public, so it would be hugely sad for the entire sport and their fanbase if the whole thing was fabricated. Following the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in February of 2001, his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Embarked upon an impressive race winning streak. Due to his lack of productivity prior to (and in many ways after) this point, some have surmised that his fellow racers allowed him win the races in honor of his father. I highly doubt that the other drivers' competitive spirit would have allowed them to cede these victories to Earnhardt, even in such tragic circumstances.
1 True - Ernie Davis And The Redskins' Racist Owner
Though the specifics of the story tend to vary, it is a long-running urban legend that the Cleveland Browns were able to trade for the pick which became Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ernie Davis because the Washington Redskins owner at the time (George Marshall) was a known racist. Prior to the 1962 NFL draft, Davis had dominated college football, and became the first African-American to win the coveted award. This caused quite a bit of tumult leading up to the draft, but the U.S. government's pressure on Marshall forced him to accept two black players in the trade anyway, as the Browns gave up Bobby Mitchell and their own 1st-rounder, Leroy Jackson, to get the rights to Davis.
Sadly, Davis never played a down in the NFL after being diagnosed with leukemia, and he died on May 18, 1963 at the young age of 23.
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